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/

MORE THAN WORDS with North East poet Keith Armstrong

I’m standing at the bar in The Bridge Hotel in Newcastle waiting for poet and writer Keith Armstrong. If you imagine someone looking like the actor Bill Nighy, you’re not far wrong. He breezes in and before you know it we are sitting in a quiet corner and after his first sip of cider he tells me a story…

I took the train down to London with a mate of mine, it was 1977. We had third row tickets for the Rainbow Theatre to see Bob Marley and the Wailers. We were frisked as we went in, everyone was, but through a heavy fog of ganja smoke we saw a fantastic show. He had such a presence on stage. It was pretty much the best concert I’ve been to in my life.

First time I travelled abroad was in 1966. I went with a friend, we took a Melody Maker trip to the Berlin Jazz Festival. Flew over there then got a coach past Checkpoint Charlie to the venue. It was afternoon gigs, avant garde stuff and the big jazz guys of the day like Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins were on the bill. We got back to London and walking down Carnaby Street we bumped into two of the Beach Boys who we went to see in concert that night at Hammersmith Odeon.

313343_10150279462417234_211706092_n

What is your background ? I was born and bred in Newcastle and my father worked in the shipyards. Absolutely steeped in the tradition. School days were spent at Heaton Grammar and it taught me to be a rebel because I couldn’t stand the confinement of the place. Just being edgy, wanting things to change – haven’t lost it.

First job I ever had was at Newcastle University Library I got paid 6 pounds 14 shillings and threepence a week. I was always bookish at school so libraries was good to get into. Plus I was the only boy amongst 15 women librarians – I learnt a lot. Gateshead College was another library I worked at in the early ‘70s. Within that I was developing an interest in the arts and arranged events with poets and theatre. From 1980-86 I was a Community Arts worker in Peterlee, County Durham then went freelance as a writer. I was glad to escape the 9 to 5 into an alternative prison of freelance (laughs).

I was interested in people like Dylan Thomas, the rhythm of his poetry. Actors like Richard Harris, hell raisers like Oliver Reed – all good role models! Yeah in my early days I loved the old bohemian lifestyle of reading poetry and getting tanked up (laughs). Listening to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, they were all there and I wrote poetry but always felt that I wanted to make them song-like. That’s why I ended up working with Gary Miller and The Whisky Priests. (Featured on the blog March 23rd 2019).

20108676_10212751378275783_1952693382877553180_n

Keith with North East musician Gary Miller.

How did that come about ? I was writing lyrics and I see very little difference in poetry to song lyrics. Around the early ‘90s I cottoned on to The Whisky Priests. I was looking for a band that had an edge, a bit of anger, you know a bit of an attitude. Also one steeped in the working class tradition of the North East. So I asked this guy Ross Forbes who was press officer at the NUM and he mentioned The Whisky Priests. I found they were playing at The Rose Tree in Durham. I went along and I knew this was what I was after, even I got up dancing (laughs).

It was really important for me and my poetry as it’s a different audience for what I write. And they weren’t playing in just the backroom of a Folk Club. They were taking it forward, for a younger audience. We also travelled a bit to Germany, Holland and Ireland. I always admired the fact Gary could write songs and was quite prolific about it as seen on The Whisky Priests anthology box set. But yeah I wrote some lyrics, they recorded Bleeding Sketches and it came out in 1995.

 

What does writing mean to you ? When I do write it’s to express my emotions and follow my heart. That’s why I like Gary Miller because he is like that. We worked on a project together called The Mad Martins. They were three brothers one of which has his paintings in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle. I researched the story and asked Gary to write some stuff for it, that’s how it kicked off. It’s a special story that we put out on a triple CD. But writing, I couldn’t live without it.

Henshaw cd front jpeg

What you working on now ? Well I’m just forcing myself to write at the minute. Emotionally I’m a bit sapped with things going on around me you know, personal stuff. There are plans to go out to Tuebingen near Stuttgart with Northumbrian piper Chris Ormston as part of a Cultural Exchange arranged with County Durham. That’ll be in July. Originally they sent me over there in ‘87 as Poet in Residence and I’ve been going back there ever since. Then in October it’s same again for Limerick over in Ireland, fell in love with the place and they keep inviting me back.

But I could still be reading my poetry to 10 people in the back room of a pub in Penrith. Why do it ? I don’t know. But I’m keeping my options open (laughs).

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2019.

STRIKE UP THE BAND in conversation with Gary Miller and Mick Tyas from The Whisky Priests

53657234_10161435645555463_2218081915229962240_n

Gary Miller, Gary Alikivi & Mick Tyas.

North East folk rockers The Whisky Priests released their first album Nee Gud Luck in 1989…

Gary Nee Gud Luck was done quickly which made it quite exciting really. Later on with other albums I found it a stressful experience because being a perfectionist it was difficult to relax in the studio. I was quite uncomfortable in that situation and once you press that button you know.

Mick Thing is, recording is very clinical and very mechanical you know, you do your bit and add the overdubs. But live you play it warts an’ all, you make mistakes and we still play those songs.

Listening back would you change anything on that first album ? 

Gary No, looking back we wouldn’t change anything about the music. It’s like looking back on old photos isn’t it. They are defining moments. Creative people keep searching for perfection, improving on the last thing you’ve done. Always feeling you can do better and that’s how it should be you know. No, wouldn’t change anything.

ALBUM

Mick That cover picture was taken outside The Cluny, you can see the old cobbles, the River Tyne is behind us.

Gary There is nothing to suggest there’s a recording studio in the warehouse.

Mick We have talked about going back there and re-staging the photo with the new line up.

Gary Our image is authentic. If it was fake people would see through it and it would fall apart. At school I’d wear white shirt and crombies. When I got into music in the 70s I was into The Clash, XTC, Post punk stuff but a band I was heavily into was The Specials. Jerry Dammers was a genius, creating the whole black/white image, second-hand suits, and the way the band was presented with all their energy. Here was a band that looked like a gang. Myself and my brother took a lot from that.

Similar to bands like the Ramones ?

Gary Yeah, when we started we wanted to reflect that because we didn’t do things by halves. It was 100%. On stage we were putting our heart and soul into it. It was who we were.

Mick We did a festival in Belgium and were second on the bill to the Ramones. We met them and Joey said he liked our show but the others were kind of introvert. I remember we were in Italy and got on the guest list for a Ramones gig. My memory of that night was being asked for my autograph at a Ramones gig not a Whisky Priests gig (laughs).

Gary We’ve always had our integrity. We’ve always tried to be honest and never be pretentious about it. Not being calculated about it or commercial, we’ve just followed our creative heart.

Mick There’s been various people trying to get their hooks in and manipulate and change us but the integrity of the band stops that.

The Whisky Priests - Photo Session 1989 (Nee Gud Luck promo) 3 - Copy

Founder member Gary Miller remembers how the name of the band came about… We had been rehearsing, our first gigs were arranged and we needed a name. My brother and I wrote down a few names and that was the best of the bunch. It came from a character in a book The Power and the Glory by British author Graham Greene, which is set during the Mexican revolution. The main protagonist is an anonymous priest and referred to as The Whisky Priest.

Mike We called one of our albums The Power and the Glory as a homage to the author. There was no real story behind it but it had a few advantages.

Gary Yeah, we were at a gig in Germany and half way through a guy came on stage with a tray full of glasses of whisky for us (laughs). And once we were playing in Holland and there was an article in a newspaper warning people not to go to see this band cos apparently we were encouraging alcoholism. As a result, the gig was a sell-out (laughs).

Mick Yeah there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

There has been a reunion lately but when were The Whisky Priests first active ?

Gary From 1985 to 2002 officially, then we kind of went into hibernation, we did a few gigs here and there but that was it until the reunion tour last year. We enjoyed it and the majority of material was from the early part of our career. It was great to revisit it and we adapted some songs, it had a freshness because we now have 30 years of experience behind us. And not just musicality but life you know.

Mick Some of the stuff we were playing were better versions I thought. We were out there enjoying it.

Gary Yeah we were doing it for different reasons. Back then everything rested on it, you never had time to step back and appreciate it. It was relentless. So this time was a celebration really of the band’s history and legacy.

48364733_10161101015900463_3246586609637785600_n

Multi-instrumentalist Mick Tyas joined The Whisky Priests in ’88, adding vocals, banjo, mandolin and bouzouki… I had been on a Christmas holiday with some friends and we were driving back when I heard an interview with the band on BBC Radio Cleveland. The band were only a three piece then and were looking for a bass player. My friend’s wife said why not ring them up, I think I remember the phone number. At first I got the number wrong then tried again, got it right and went along to the audition. Which was at your parents’ house wasn’t it ?

Gary Yeah, in my bedroom (laughs).

In the early years the band had already created a loyal following…

Gary Yeah, we’d only played a few gigs in local pubs around Durham. 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 near Haswell. He used to deliver the milk and one of the houses on his route belonged to a producer 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).

TUBE

Did more opportunities come off the back of your appearance on The Tube ?

Gary Yeah, suddenly we had the chance to play outside our immediate area. We were The band off The Tube, you know. In the bar at The Tube we met these two guys who were getting into artist management. One was a sort of music mogul who knew about the industry and the other was purely business and knew nothing about music. It looked promising at first, they signed another act as well, but the guys fell out with each other. So one took one act and the other got, well we ended up with the businessman who knew nothing about the music industry.

The other guy became head of Go Disc records and signed The Housemartins, bands like that. So it could have been a different scenario. Our manager put our first single out which kick-started our recording career but nothing after that… he needed the other guy! Eventually we parted company and started doing it ourselves.

 Was this the start of Whippet Records ?

Gary Our first recording was down the Newcastle Quayside at a place called Prism Sound that ended up on a compilation album of bands from Durham. Then we put a single out, The Colliery on 7inch that set up Whippet Records then put out two 12inch ep’s in 1988. That’s when Mick joined and we recorded our first album Nee Gud Luck in ’89 at The Cluny recording studio, now a music venue.

Mick Yeah, originally it was an old whisky warehouse. We went down into the bowels of the place in a big service lift. The engineer was Mickey Sweeney who used to record a lot of folk acts around the North East. It was all done in about 6 days, mostly recorded live including the mixing. We had a lotta fun but could have done with more time.

Gary Yeah, it was bang, bang, bang… and the brass band was in there. I was in the control room singing and to avoid any sound spillage the rest of the band where in the studio.

Mick It was very seat of yer pants recording. No cans (headphones) or soundproofing really. The engineer saying I’m just nipping over to The Ship to sort sumthin’ out (laughs).

Gary We put it out through Celtic Music who we ended up having a big court battle with. But at their insistence we recorded it there cos it was their in-house studio. They recorded all their acts in The Cluny.

But on our subsequent albums we were looking for an alternate studio and Mick mentioned Trinity Heights run by Fred Purser (former Penetration/Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist). We went there in January ‘92 for our second album.

Mick Yes, I already knew Fred, originally from school, so the link was there and I think we were one of the first to record in Trinity Heights. As well as producing he played on one or two of the tracks. We recorded three or four albums there.

Gary It was great because we became good friends with Fred, he’s such a laid back guy and a good atmosphere was created to record in. No matter how disastrous it became in the studio he was always calm and collected which rubbed off on us.

 

When was your first magic moment listening to music, a time that stands out as really special ?

Gary That would go right back to when I was 4 years old and my dad was into Italian opera but he was also into military brass band music. Me and my twin brother used to listen to the records marching around the room banging toy drums and playing trumpets. That was a real buzz. That tied in with going to the Durham Miners Meetings and seeing the brass bands, that had an influence as well because both my parents’ families were miners. It was in my blood and had a big impact.

Then at junior school we’d listen to the radio and sing these folk songs from all around the world. Songs like Jesse James, The Streets of Laredo, Casey Jones and the Maid of Amsterdam. Then local stuff like The Lambton Worm and The Blaydon Races. It opened up my mind that songs could tell stories. Then teenage years listening to rock and pop records in my room standing in front of the mirror miming along, that’s when I decided I wanted a guitar.

 

Mick The first band I saw live was The Beatles, I was 8 year old. We were living in London at the time cos me father worked for the prison service. He had bought four tickets, there was my father, mother, sister and me sitting in Hammersmith Odeon. I’ve never forgotten it cos at the time I knew it was something important.

We moved back up here (North East) in time to see England win the World Cup and I got into folk music and prog rock, bands like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span then Led Zeppelin. Punk came along and I had a connection with Penetration through their guitarist Fred Purser. Then I got into The Pogues, The Men They Couldn’t Hang you know that whole Folk slant.

Some musicians often talk about missed opportunities to take their music to a larger audience. Did you experience this ?

Gary We played Cambridge Folk Festival 1990. Colin Urwin, journalist on the folk scene wrote in The Gaurdian that We’re going to be the next big thing. So there was a definite buzz. That was our window of opportunity but we were stuck in this contract with an independent record company. Our manager at the time, who had also managed The Strawbs, said I’m going to get you signed to a major label. After about a year we went to his office in Tottenham Court Road and he sat us down and showed us all these letters from A&R guys at major record companies EMI, Sony, BMG, Arista loads all desperately wanting to sign us. At the time The Pogues had been hugely successful and all these companies were looking for a band that could be part of that.

Mick There was only The Pogues, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and ourselves were the main ones that were around. The Levellers were on their way up.

Gary Yeah, but we were already in a contract with an independent label and couldn’t get out.

Mick Our manager eventually dropped us, he couldn’t invest in us anymore. The Musicians Union eventually got us out after 3 year in all, plus we couldn’t record during that time.

Gary By then we’d missed the boat. That was our big opportunity. We couldn’t get bookings at festivals because the company owner, who we took to court, blackened our name.

Mick Yeah it was… Don’t book the Whisky Priests, they’re trouble. For every up, there’s half a dozen downs. You think yeah there’s something happening here… then you just don’t get the break.

Gary Ironic thing was that if we had done something with a major label he would have been in for a percentage.

There was a label from France interested and we were top of their list. But with everything happening they went with the second band on their list, The Levellers – look what happened to them. It’s all if’s, but’s and maybe’s. But we still soldiered on with our career just not on a major label.

After the success of the reunion tour last year the band are busy booking European dates for this year…

Mick Well you’re never too old to rock n roll and I enjoy it now much more than I ever did. I’ve been a musician all my life and getting up and doing it is still the most thrilling thing you can do. To play in front of an audience and get a reaction is great, especially in this band.

We were playing a concert by Skype last week to 2 guys and it was as thrilling as getting up at a festival in front of 20,000 people. Still great, still got a buzz. This reunion has been great because once you’ve done it you just want more. It’s yer lifeblood.

Gary For me music has always been in my blood. I’m a songwriter, I create my own music and will always be doing it. I’ve always had my own vision and been driven. When we weren’t performing as a band in the intervening years I was a Community Artist, held songwriting workshops, worked as a music agent and tutor. Always maintaining a link with the music industry because that’s where I felt I belong. That’s where my heart is.

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2019.

For more info contact The Whisky Priests on the official website

https://www.whiskypriests.com/

Recommended:

Interview with Fred Purser 30th Dec 2018.