MAKING TRACKS #4 with songwriter & producer Steve Thompson

In the fourth and final part part of an interview with Teesside based Thompson, he talks about MCA records, Pete Waterman and mainstream success.

SELL RECORDS, SHIFT UNITS

I was working in several different genres 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 for a band called Wavelength, it 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.

Lorraine Crosby

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. ‘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 who went on to sing with Meatloaf on one of his hit singles. 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.

HOLLYWOOD NEED SOMETHING SNAPPY

On quitting NEAT Records as producer I had a shed load of releases as a writer. In the early ‘80s 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.

SINK OR SWIM

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 grabbed another MCA staff writer 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 – a 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.

Steve’s latest album is available on Cherry Red  www.thelongfade.xyz

For more details check the official site:

The Steve Thompson Band – Steve Thompson: Songwriter (steve-thompson.org.uk)

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2017.

MAKING TRACKS #3 with Teesside based songwriter & producer Steve Thompson.

In the third part of Steve Thompson’s story he is working at Impulse studio/NEAT records and recording with Tygers of Pan Tang.

FIRST OUT THE BLOCKS

They had no sophistication then but I guess they made up for that with raw energy. I was looking at this from a songwriter’s perspective and suggested they shorten intro’s and reduce repetition of dead wood and get to the hooks quicker.

I mixed the tracks and worked on the drum sound and a few other bits and pieces, we got it ready and the A side of their first single was Don’t Touch Me There. We put it out 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. 

I was also 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 as a single. Great idea.

At that time I was sharing a rented flat in Whitley Bay with the band, it’s a sitcom waiting to be written. Bizarrely the original Tygers vocalist Jess Cox and his 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.

FOR THE RECORD

When I’d come back from the studio he’d still be playing. 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 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.

Coming up to start recording their fourth album The Cage, there’d been a few changes in the Tygers camp and that made a big dent in the song writing team. Jon Deverill was already in, and Fred Purser from Penetration was brought in to replace John Sykes.

The band were looking for some songs and Rocky suggested we should do the track 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 a brand new song called Lonely at the Top to their managers. 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.

I also asked the Tygers management if anyone wants to come along to my new 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. That song was just prior to them going into the studio so it really was down to the wire with unfinished lyrics.

DEADLINES

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. I said I’ll put some lyrics together, how long you got ?

‘Oh well, we’re having a little break then I’m going in the studio to sing it in 20 minutes’. So phoning in a second verse in double quick time 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. 

OLD FRIENDS, NEW SONGS

After that I started working with Jon Deverill on a solo album. To begin with I was using a little porta studio but decided to go large with an eight track demo studio in my new house in Whitley Bay.

I met up with John Sykes again when we used his studio to record the album. He had this huge place in the middle of a housing estate in Blackpool, where he 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.

TOKYO CALLING

When John Sykes was touring Japan with Whitesnake 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 so we decided to make this the fifth Tygers album, rather than a Deverill solo album.

Because it was going to be a Tygers album we needed another Tyger to validate the band, who wants to see a band with no original members ? So original drummer Brian Dick came back in, there was Jon, and on guitar a guy was brought in called Neil Sheppard. I was asked to play keyboards.

I didn’t tour with them but we did a live TV rock show called ECT, Gary Moore and Robin George were also on – I was heavily disguised.

Read Making Tracks #4, when Steve gains mainstream success.

Steve’s latest album is available on Cherry Red  www.thelongfade.xyz

For more details check the official site:

The Steve Thompson Band – Steve Thompson: Songwriter (steve-thompson.org.uk)

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2017.

MAKING TRACKS #2 with songwriter & producer Steve Thompson. Impulse studio/NEAT records

In the second part of an interview with Teesside based songwriter & producer Steve Thompson, he talks about his time as in-house producer at Impulse studio/NEAT records and crossing swords with Northern metal maniacs Raven, Venom & Tygers of Pan Tang.

Raven

METAL CITY

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.

There was quite a scene with muso’s getting together in some bars on the North East coast of England. Part of the scene was a club called Mingles in Whitley Bay. This was the place I checked out Raven, they were due in Impulse studio so I wanted to get a feel of what they were about. I’ll never forget the first time I met 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.

CRASH, BANG & DON’T FORGET THE WALLOP

Producing their album was an intense but rewarding experience. When I agreed to produce the album it was only on a three-day week basis. I figured I would need time out to recover from the sessions. I’ve heard these guys 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.

When I first heard them I thought yeah this is heavy as hell, not what I’m writing at the moment but it was constructed, well thought out and clever with a huge sound for a three piece.

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. Some people you have to be gentler with and try not to make a mistake. Most of the time humour was what worked best. They have since said one of the things they remember about our time in the studio was how much they laughed.

THROW THE KITCHEN SINK AT IT MAN

We experimented a bit, 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.

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. We then did several takes but had to keep replenishing the cups. In the end we used the entire supply of three thousand.

Venom

SEDUCED BY THE DEVIL

I remember being in the studio when our tape op was a 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 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, Conrad’s band was called Venom.  And what about the time I gave Venom the Devil (laughs).

The Devil is a nick name for a musical interlude called the Tritone. And it’s heavily discordant if you crank the volume up, basically the sound of The Devil. I remember in the studio I loaned them my bass and Conrad played it through a Marshall stack and a fuzz box. Apparently the loan of that bass gave birth to Black Metal. I’m responsible. Sorry.

They were very unrefined but had 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 – a Gibson EB3. I said ‘I have no use for it now but you must take care of it’. Next I saw it had an upside down effigy of Christ nailed to it and holes drilled through it. Some years later I asked him did he still have it, he replied ‘It died in L.A.’

Tygers of Pan Tang

A BIG TIDE AT TYGER BAY

One of the earlier times in Impulse, Dave Woods – NEAT label owner – came in and said there’s a band out there making a big noise why not get them in and sell a few records? So in came 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.

We recorded their first single Don’t Touch Me There, now we know it was the start of what is known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), and the tide was coming in that very evening (laughs).

Anyway we put it out 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. 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.

Next up read Making Tracks #3, where Steve talks about song writing & recording with Tygers of Pan Tang.

Steve’s latest album is available on Cherry Red  www.thelongfade.xyz

For more details check the official site:

The Steve Thompson Band – Steve Thompson: Songwriter (steve-thompson.org.uk)

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2017

MAKING TRACKS #1 with songwriter & producer, Steve Thompson. From Consett to Wallsend.

Teesside based songwriter & producer Steve Thompson has had a hell of a career in the music biz, from producing heavy metal bands Venom, Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang, to mainstream artists Sheena Easton, Elkie Brooks and Celine Dion recording his songs, plus working with Pete Waterman, Gus Dudgeon, and The Hollies. Here he talks about his early influences and forming Bullfrog.

A BIT OF BULLY

Records I was fond of in the ‘60s were The Beach Boys. Brian Wilsons skill in making records was unbelievable. I used to listen to the radio and they were so far away like gods playing this music. But the thing that got me into playing guitar was seeing everyday guys around town playing guitars, just ordinary people.

Like all 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 the pubs and clubs of North East England. That was my first stab at the music industry.

Bullfrog supported a lot of bands like Vinegar Joe and Edgar Broughton. On October 10th 1974 I got a call from our manager to say there was a gig going that night supporting Wishbone Ash at Newcastle’s Odeon Cinema and could I get the band together. When the call came in I had been dying my cream coloured platform boots, I fancied green. But because I was in a rush, I turned out on stage that night with one green boot and the other still cream.

Steve (in blue) in Bullfrog.

I’VE GOT A PLAN, MAN

When Bullfrog were in Island Studios in London our first producer was Roger Bain, he also produced Black Sabbath. I was introduced to his friend and record producer, Gus Dudgeon of Elton John fame, later on I did a lot of work as a songwriter with Dudgeon.

The whole process of studio and song writing really intrigued me so I knew where I was headed. I wrote a few songs put them out and a guy called Dave Wood heard about me and found a slot at Impulse Studio in Wallsend.

Next up read Making Tracks #2, when Steve is producer at Impulse Studio in Wallsend, home to New Wave of British Heavy Metal label NEAT records, and crosses swords with metal maniacs Raven, Venom & Tygers of Pan Tang.

Steve’s latest album is available on Cherry Red  www.thelongfade.xyz

For more details check the official site:

The Steve Thompson Band – Steve Thompson: Songwriter (steve-thompson.org.uk)

Interview Gary Alikivi  from June 2017.

RAISED ON ROCK – with Tygers of Pan Tang former drummer, Brian Dick

Here in the North East the Tyneside Bloc has given up a load of music stories from bands including Venom, Fist, Satan, White Heat, Angelic Upstarts, plus Tygers of Pan Tang.

Since forming in the coastal town of Whitley Bay in 1978, the Tygers have released a number of studio albums with their latest Ritual in 2019. The present line up of Robb Weir, Gav Gray, Jack Meille, Craig Ellis and new guitarist Francesco Marris have chipped in with up to date news and stories from the Tyger camp.

Former members including Jon Deverill, Fred Purser, Dean Robertson, Glenn Howes, Micky McCrystal and more have told their side of the story. John Sykes must have lost my number.

The blog has also featured interviews with original members Robb Weir, Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws and now, Brian Dick. After extensive gigging around Europe, plus live shows in Japan, and playing on six studio albums, Brian called it a day in 1987, here he remembers where it all started.

DELIVERING THE GOODS

By the time I’d saved enough money to purchase my first drum kit, for several years I’d been harbouring the idea of being in a band. I attended gigs at Newcastle City Hall on an almost weekly basis since I was 11 year old, all financed by paper rounds.

I  would soak up anything and everything from Zeppelin to Leonard Cohen, always mesmerised by the drummer. I only ever played along to records, with my Russian hi-fi speakers inches from my ears – luckily I had very tolerant neighbours.

TYGER BAY

During A levels I used to go to Newcastle Poly most Friday nights, there would be name bands playing almost every week. This is where I met Rocky Laws who had a Heavy Metal DJ slot upstairs, turns out he played bass and lived round the corner in Whitley Bay. We got together in his parents garage with his mate Robb Weir. Rocky came up with the band name, Tygers of Pan Tang, he lifted it from Sci-Fi novel Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock. And so it began.

RATS IN THE CELLAR

First gig was in a pub cellar in Durham City, we were a four piece then with singer Mark Butcher. It was a memorable gig as only one person attended and I cut a rat in two putting my bass drum back in its case. Songs included Ted Nugent cover Cat Scratch Fever, Rush’s Bastille Day and Motorhead. We regularly played pubs including The Golden Eagle in Blyth and some working men’s clubs.

After releasing their first single ‘Don’t Touch Me There’ on Neat records, MCA picked up the band and re-released the record earning them a record deal and releasing their debut album, Wild Cat.

TYGERS ON 45

We had previously been to Impulse Studio in Wallsend to record demos. So to record ‘a record’ was very exciting. I remember Cronos from Venom was the junior staff member. I would imagine it was all done and dusted in the same day. It all led to record and publishing contracts, national gigs, giving up the day job as a Computer operator at Tyne and Wear Council, plus our first ever trips abroad. Brilliant.

PENNIES FROM READING

We played Reading Festival twice, 1980 and 1982. The first was very nerve-wracking. We were onstage during the daytime and you could see the cans and coins coming towards you. The second was much better. We played in the dark as we were the penultimate band of the day before Iron Maiden. It was much easier than playing a pub where audiences are on top of you.

Several years ago I heard a BBC recording of the 1982 appearance on Radio 6 and was quite taken aback – it was bloody good. Definitely a career highlight.

THE CAGE TOUR

My ticket from 3rd September 1982. I paid £3 to watch the Tygers and openers Tytan at Newcastle Mayfair.

Can remember the Mayfair gig for three reasons – I got the bus to town in true rock star style, my then girlfriend was accidently knocked out after the gig resulting in several hours in A&E, and my Dad came to see us for the first time. He was still very disappointed I’d left my secure job but following the Mayfair gig could see why.

ROCKY ROADS

Any road stories ? Three that came to mind, but there is many, many, more. Loads of drug and drink fuelled tales that will remain untold to protect the guilty and their subsequent families. There were also many jolly japes like when a plastic fork was dipped in dog shit before an unnamed member ate his Chinese takeaway.

The time when our manager had to leave early doors for London’s King’s Cross train station and was barricaded in his bedroom with several rooms worth of furniture. Then Trevor Sewell (North East guitarist) was depping for us in Barcelona and forgot his guitar, he came on playing a broom.

My ticket from 7th November 1983 I paid £3.50 to watch Accept and openers Sargeant. This gig was rescheduled for 27th January ’84.

I was in a great band called Sargeant, still in touch with Stevie Lamb (guitar). We opened for Accept on that tour and I remember Tony Liddle (vocals) at the Hammersmith Odeon. He had eaten too close to gig time, puked on stage, shouted ‘rock an’ roll’ and the stalls rose to their feet.

ALL ABOUT THE SONG

It’s been many years since I last listened to the back catalogue and with little thought two songs come immediately to mind, Life of Crime and Stormlands, both b-sides, both recorded in 5 minutes with no real production. My favourite album is Spellbound by a country mile, fave tracks are Gangland and Hellbound – when performed live the bpm is on overdrive!

FINAL COUNTDOWN

Tygers came to a natural end for me around Autumn ’87 following a final run of gigs across mainland Europe.

THOUGHTS FOR TODAY

I was due my new teeth in Turkey this month and am the beneficiary of free prescriptions for the over 60’s ! Out here on Exmoor National Park in West Somerset where I’ve lived for 20 year, me and my partner share our cottage, outbuildings and land with several animals. My daughters and grandchildren live in the North-East so I’m a regular visitor, or rather was until covid.

Until lockdown I was active on the local pub gig ‘scene’, an enjoyable hobby with good craic.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   April 2021.

A SONG FOR EVERYONE – with former Southbound drummer, Mick Kelly

North East pubs and clubs were covered in a smoky haze as thick as yer ma’s pea soup, Broon Ale bottles clinked and a chorus of Geordie voices cheered along to Southbound when they hit the stage at Ashington Excelsior, Bedlington Lucifers, Dunston Excelsior, then over to Heaton Buffs. Down to Hartlepool Clippies, back up to Morpeth Comrades and dropped in at The Old 29.

There was a run out to La Hacienda in Prudhoe, with next stop Sunderland Boilermakers, and not forgetting Wingate Constitutional – oh those glory nights in working men’s clubs that would bring a lump in yer throat and a tear in the glassy eye of the hardest riveter in the shipyard.

People would come early and fill the place, it made it all worthwhile’ said Mick.

We played a lot of gig’s and wherever we went, we went down really well’.

The Thrill of it All and All Right Now are previous interviews with Alan Burke and Mick Kelly, former members of Southbound. They talk about their background in music, early gigs, recording in Impulse studio and how proud they are of the songs the band wrote. (links below)

Would they have been successful if they were signed up by a record company ? In a new interview I put that question to drummer Mick Kelly….

I felt if we had the right amount of backing to support us, our outcome would have been totally different. We were trying to get a record deal and we managed to get in touch with Brian Oliver from State Records. He came up to see us and tried to sort something out.

Some forty years later I got to chat with Brian Oliver via Steve Thompson (songwriter/producer). After I showed Brian a copy of the letter Southbound got from him back in the day, he got in touch…

Brian OliverWow, seeing that letter again is like entering a time machine. I obviously heard something in the band or I wouldn’t have come up to the Gosforth Hotel. Unfortunately, Wayne Bickerton decided which acts were signed to the record label. Sorry we weren’t able to help the band in the end‘.

We were then offered a track to record written by Steve Thompson and Gary Maughan called Front Page News, but unfortunately that never transpired. But Southbound did write some of their songs. Our two guitarists were more than capable of writing their own material.

George Lamb on the left with Alan Burke at Newcastle Mayfair 1980.

Some of the songs that were written did have personal meanings to them and some were inspired by the sound and style of West Coast music at that time. One of our favourite songs was Keep on Winding which made it on an RCA compilation album as we won a Battle of the Bands competition in 1982.

Keep on Winding was a direct result from playing at the Mayfair in Newcastle. In the lyric it says ‘You look around and see your friends are all beside you’. The song Don’t Deny Me was written about a relationship that one of the band members had. Another one was inspired by an Allman Brothers track Jessica, our song was called Joanne.

In 1977 the Melody Maker music mag was running a Pop/Rock competition so we entered. We were asked to play at Dunelm House in Durham City along with at least another 20 bands. We were first of the band section to play after the solo/acoustic artists.

We set up and were waiting for the judges to return from their tea break, we asked the packed crowd if they would like a song. They said yes so we broke into one of our own numbers Love is a Strange Thing.

On hearing this the judges ran down stairs to see us getting stuck into our song. Then one of them jumped onto the stage and started leaping around like some person possessed. After the song he came across to me and said ‘That was fantastic but don’t say anything’.

The judges said we will be judged on our next three songs. The competition carried on and we left soon after to play a gig somewhere else but didn’t get to know what the result was until the next day when we played Wheatley Hill Club, Durham. My brother, who had stayed at the competition, came and told us we had won the competition. We were absolutely ecstatic.

Southbound at Newcastle Mayfair supporting Tygers of Pan Tang Feb.1980.

As well as gigging in the North East, Southbound visited the likes of Berwick, Richmond, Dudley, Edinburgh, London, Manchester and Northampton. They knew how important stage time was….

I think many bands in the ‘70s and ‘80s playing regular gigs was a key for development and agents played a great part, which we don’t have now. Once we got onto the working man’s club circuit around the North East playing other people’s material, it gave us an idea of what went down well and which songs didn’t.

Some support gigs had been arranged with bands like Cado Belle, George Hackett band, Alberto y lost trios Paranoias, Tyger’s of Pang Tang, Last Exit, The Junco’s, Shakin Stevens and The Sunsets. Plus playing alongside bands on the music festivals like the Newcastle Music festival and Domefest which we played at least three times.

I remember one night when we played Newcastle Mayfair we supported Babe Ruth, not with the usual member Jenny Haan, but with a girl called Elle Hope who went on to sing the disco song Dance Yourself Dizzy in the band Liquid Gold.

We actually headlined a couple of gigs at the Mecca in Sunderland and Newcastle Mayfair, and one time with Raven at the Mayfair. At the time Raven used to fill in for us at The Gosforth which later helped them get a foot hold on the pub rock circuit. We also had the obligatory gig at Newcastle Labour club on a Sunday morning for the female lady who removed her clothes. 

There are some photos from when we played Newcastle Mayfair on 15 February 1980, supporting Tygers Of Pang Tang. Not the best quality but they have a bit of atmosphere about them. This is when we were a four piece, personally our best time.

Southbound at Newcastle Mayfair supporting Tygers of Pan Tang Feb.1980.

Have you any road stories to share ?

We had some hilarious times on the road. One is when we were playing Catterick Garrison which was a high brow affair with food from caviar to curry and numerous amounts of liquid. The night went on forever with a stand-up comedian, Bob Richie, a solo singer, a jazz quartet and us.

We ended up finishing the night a little worse for wear and having a Champagne breakfast. On the way back we spotted a hedgehog running round a roundabout, so we stopped, got out and tried to get it back on to the grass when the police showed up.

They asked what we were doing at 6:30 in the morning. None of us thought about getting breathalysed or arrested as the police officer just said ‘get off the roundabout and get yourselves home’. I don’t know how we managed to get home.

We played Hartlepool Quoits club, if the band played too loud the orange light flashed and the sound system would cut out the electrics on stage. So we hooked all our equipment into the dressing room sockets and when the orange light would flash away the committee looked puzzled why it didn’t cut out. A few other bands quickly caught on and did the same.

Not a story from the road but funny all the same – while we were recording, the studio had a 16-track recording tape machine. One band member was speaking to someone on the phone about recording, and the person on the other end of the phone asked what kind of tape machine it was.

The reply came quickly…‘It’s a Hotpoint’. In which the band member quickly said to the person on the other end of the phone. ‘They said it’s a Hotpoint’…..oops he fell for it.

I’m sure there were plenty of other occasions but they have faded beyond memory. But having said that a song or another piece of history will trigger things off.

Check the earlier interviews with Mick Kelly and Alan Burke:

ALL RIGHT NOW with Michael Kelly former drummer with North East band Southbound | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

THE THRILL OF IT ALL | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

Gary Alikivi   February 2021.

ROCK OF AGES with Fist vocalist, Glenn Coates

I was reminded of the night the New Wave of British Heavy Metal came in to South Shields. What happened was I was flicking through my records and I come across the Hollow Ground EP which was kindly given to me by Lou Taylor (Satan/Blind Fury) after I lost my copy.

I originally bought one from Second Time Around Record Shop in South Shields after watching Hollow Ground play live at Tyne Dock Youth Club in 1980 – my very first LOUD gig. They certainly gave the place some welly and was one of the first NWOBHM gigs I went to – Hellanbach and Satan followed over the years.

Glenn Coates was vocalist that night, but later he left the rock hard granite sound of Hollow Ground, and became frontman for another South Shields plug in an’ play no frills outfit, Fist…Yeah we used to play so loud, one gig I jumped onto the drum riser at the very same time that the drummer hit his crash cymbal and I nearly lost my balance, I think I have tinnitus now (laughs).

I saw Fist at venues like South Shields British Legion, and Newcastle Mayfair on 4 June 1982 on the Y & T Earthshaker tour….

I remember they brought all their gear in flight cases. One of the cases was like a very tall chest, and when they opened it, it was full of cans of beer. We had a great time opening for them, good memories.

Later that year I saw Y & T again, this time opening for AC/DC in Newcastle. The Americans warmed up the City Hall enough for DC to land on stage with their huge backline. They were fronted by ex-Geordie singer Brian Johnson. During the ‘70s & ‘80s a lot of rock/metal bands came from the North East – The Animals, Geordie, Raven and the Tygers of Pan Tang….

I remember Fist supported the Tygers at Warrington Park Hall, which is the same set up as Newcastle City Hall…said Glenn.

The Tygers were doing well at the time with arctic’s full of sound gear parked outside. But our van with all our gear decides to pack up on the M62. We eventually got to the hall just in time – we pulled up outside at 6pm with our backline in a horsebox (laughs). 

If we go back to the start, how did the job in Hollow Ground come about ?

You mentioned that Tyne Dock gig, well we have fond memories of playing there because before Hollow Ground I was in a band that used to rehearse in that youth club. There was Brian Rickman (bass) and myself in a band with guitarist Steve Dawson (Saracen/The Animals/Geordie). That fizzled out around ’78 so Brian and me got together with Martin Metcalf (guitar) and John Lockney (drums), that was the beginning of Hollow Ground.

We also rehearsed in a backroom at the Adam & Eve pub in South Shields and all day on a Sunday in a hut in West Park. We used to give the caretaker a fiver and he’d let us in. We’d always record our rehearsals then listen to it back during the week, then rearrange the songs.We had started to write our own stuff and went in a studio to get it down on tape.

Studio work was financed by playing covers in pubs and working men’s clubs around the North East. The first studio we went into was Impulse Studio where Neat records were based, and we recorded an hour long live demo. It turned out quite good, I thought the vocals and drum sound was better there than at our other recording for the EP at Guardian Studio in Durham.

What was your experience of Guardian studio ?

Terry Gavaghan was owner and producer there and it was exciting to make a record at Guardian. We were still pretty naïve about it all you know – making a record to get noticed by a record company. Then we put some tracks together for a compilation album called Roksnax. Other bands on the record were Saracen from South Shields and Samurai who I think were Newcastle based. We all contributed four tracks each.

How did joining Fist come about ?

At first Hollow Ground were like sponges taking everything in, playing gigs wherever and whenever we could, at pubs and clubs doing covers to pay for the studio time. Learning all the time, it was a great energy to write the songs and it came about quite easy and quickly.

But thing was Terry Gavaghan said EMI were interested in signing us so we were waiting for that, but really I didn’t believe it and I’ve heard he told lots of bands the same. The band had stopped playing live so with no gigs happening I wasn’t doing much.

Fist came along and asked about me joining, I took it because they had things to offer. This was around ’81 and in the summer we played the Rock on the Tyne festival at Gateshead Stadium with Rory Gallagher and a few others. U2 were on the day before us.

The night before we played in Manchester and someone had smashed the whole back window of our car. I remember being freezing cold travelling on the motorway finally getting back to the North East about 4 in the morning. Not the best preparation cos we had to do a soundcheck and the first band on stage at 12 noon. With hindsight shouldn’t have played Manchester, but had a good time the rest of the day playing to a very large audience at Gateshead stadium.

Did you go in the studio with Fist ?

Yes we recorded the Back With a Vengeance album and the feeling then around the band and the songs was great. There was magic in the air. We also recorded a single on Neat records in 1982, it was an easy going pop song called The Wanderer with Too Hot on the b side. The Wanderer was just a laugh really, I don’t think we even played it live.

But some people thought we had mellowed and gone poppy by releasing it, but no, it was never meant to be a serious record. Then about a year later Status Quo recorded a version and got it in the charts. The picture on the front cover is me with my long hair – I haven’t got that now but I still think I’ve got that jacket (laughs).

When did Fist call it a day ?

We didn’t call it a day as such, it just kind of fizzled out. We were still rehearsing new stuff in Harry’s pub (Hill, drummer) as he had got into the pub game by then. But I don’t think any live dates were coming in. It’s a hard game to keep going.

But Fist played some memorable gigs. On 7 May 1984 we opened for Motorhead at Hammersmith Odeon on their No Remorse tour. It was great they had the Bomber lighting rig. I just remember seeing the first two or three rows singing along to songs we had wrote, it was such a buzz.

Afterwards we were upstairs in the Green Room drinking, Motorhead were there and Young Blood, the other band who were on. Lemmys son was also there, who is a good looking lad – all the lasses fancied him (laughs).

What are you doing now ?

Fist are still active. We’ve got Mark Jackson in on drums because unfortunately Harry Hill had to retire due to health problems. Last year we were still gigging and ready to go in the studio, but the March lockdown came so that put a stop to it.

We’ve got an albums worth of new material so when we can, Covid permitting, we will go in the studio and record the songs cos they can’t be left on the shelf.

Interview by Gary Alikivi    February 2021.

ROCK n ROLL DREAMS – with Dean ‘Deano’ Robertson former guitarist with Tygers of Pan Tang.

How long were you a member of the Tygers ?

I was in the band just over 12 years. After Robb (Weir), I’m the longest serving guitarist.

Why did you leave ?

At that time I wanted more from the band including more gigs and I felt my writing ideas were stifled by the Tygers style. I could write typical Tygers style songs but a lot of my songs needed a different outlet – but the grass ain’t always greener and all that. I’ll always be grateful for my time with Robb and the Tygers.

Dean has an impressive list of recordings from his time in the Tygers – Mystical (2001), Noises from the Cathouse (2003), Animal Instinct (2008) and Ambush (2012).

Two live albums, In the Roar in 2003 and 2005’s Leg of the Boot, recorded in Holland. Plus a couple of EP’s, Back and Beyond in 2007, Wildcat Sessions in 2010 and the Spellbound Sessions  in 2011.

There was also a compilation album produced in 2003, Second Wave – 25 years of NWOBHM, which included five songs each from Tygers, Girlschool and Oliver/Dawson Saxon.

What was your experience of studio work ?

Everything with the Tygers was fun – studio, rehearsals, travelling and gigs. It all seemed fairly relaxed to me. The days working with producer Chris Tsangarides in his studio was fun and a memory I’ll cherish.

I worked with Chris at a studio in London for the Second Wave album with Girlschool and OD Saxon. Plus we recorded the album Ambush in his own studio in Dover. He was a great guy, up for any suggestions and would give his advice when he thought it was needed or asked for.

His walls were covered in gold and platinum discs by some great inspiring bands, plus a few strange ones – I remember him making a point of showing us the Samantha Fox one (laughs). 

I remember him sat at his desk with a guitar in his hand while we were recording, and when we would come back in, he would be playing a version of the riff or wanting to know a part he couldn’t work out. We could have easily spent the first week just chatting, he had some amazing stories.

The best for me was Judas Priest, he talked about how Rob Halford was just incredible and had perfect pitch every session and the music from the metal gods was intense. But he would listen to the band chatting in the studio and their Brummie accents made him laugh.

When did you pick up the guitar & what were your early days like in music ?

I live in the North East now, but I’m originally from London and I got my first guitar when I was around 9 year old from my cousins future husband. At the stag party I pestered my Dad all day for him to buy it, he waited till the groom was drunk and offered him £10. Then he came home with a Zenta Strat copy and a Leo 6 watt amp. It was nice he came to see me in the Tygers years later. 

Playing live in bands in the early days was the usual pub and club circuit, then I joined a club rock band where I met up with Craig Ellis (drums) and Brian West (bass). Eventually our friendship took us into the Tygers.

How did the job come about ?

Brian West was the first of us to join the Tygers, who at that time were just Robb Weir (guitarist) and vocalist Tony Liddle. Brian got a call from Tony who he knew and had worked with before. The Tygers had almost completed the Mystical album (2001) and needed second guitar and drums for live work. I came in and played a couple of solos for the album.

When I ran through a few old tracks with Robb in the studio he seemed quite pleased that I had done my homework on the songs. We then booked a rehearsal studio for a week and jammed through most tracks. I’m not sure Robb was that interested in spending time auditioning after that cos basically we hit it off instantly and he was happy with my playing. Gigs were already lined up and Robb wanted to get out there again.

Where was your first gig in the Tygers ?

I always reminded Robb that my second gig I ever went to was the Tygers/Magnum and Def Leppard concert at Newcastle City Hall – I still have the ticket stub. (Wild Cat tour April 20 1980).

We were signed to Z Records who asked us to headline a Z Rock festival in Wigan. Robb had asked if we could be further down the bill with it being our first gig and at short notice, but it was already advertised as a Tygers comeback show.

Our singer Tony was also working in another band and was in Russia while we were in rehearsals. Therefore we only had one day with Tony and he wanted to change the songs and order. It was a shambles – definitely one to try and forget.

(Set list.com have the gig on 26 August 2001 featuring Tyketo, Contagious, Jaded Heart).

Blimey ? Can’t remember the date, somewhere I have a video from the show. I think the gig was at a venue called Maximes, I only remember Tyketo being on the bill, Danny Vaughan is such a good vocalist.

A few weeks later we went to Germany for another Z Rock Festival and that was a lot better. However Z Management were not happy with Tony on vocals, so after two gigs we were looking for a new singer.

Gav Gray, Robb Weir, Jack Meille, Craig Ellis & Deano.

Have you any road stories from gigging with the Tygers ?

I’ve so many great memories, and met so many great people. We used to get up to a lot of mischief in hotels, even two minutes before walking onstage there was always something going on.

Once Robb nearly crashed our van in Germany and almost ended up fighting with the other driver because of Craig. Craig and I were always the last to bed and our ‘Tygers Night Game Compendium’ became famous for all the wrong reasons – say no more about that.

Robb, Craig, Gav and Me sat with our trousers round our ankles watching the 50 second beat the clock Babestation challenge as a set up for our Manager and vocalist Jack – don’t think they were impressed !

Were there any songs you looked forward to playing in the live set ?

I liked playing Hellbound and when we put a new album track into the set. Unfortunately never got to play any Ambush tracks live, would have loved to play the song I wrote Rock n Roll Dream.

What are you doing now and do you keep in touch with the Tygers ?

I was playing in top AC/DC tribute Live Wire – The AC/DC Show for a few years after I left the Tygers. I started playing bass and singing in a trio where we rehearsed up a few of my Tygers tracks and wrote new material but it never made it to the stage. 

I speak regularly to Craig and Robb, and Micky (Crystal) who took my place in the Tygers.  When this year finally gets going again I hope to meet up with the Tygers again at a venue and say hello to the new boy Francesco, be nice if you were there too Gary.

But yeah I’m still writing, mainly lyrics and the odd riff. I have a few old ideas that might rear their ugly heads at some point, you never know.

Finally, what does music mean to you ?

It was an escape. Really, just a way of life.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  February 2021

Check the official Tygers of Pan Tang website for a full discography:

Tygers Of Pan Tang – The Official Site

THE ITALIAN JOB – with new Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist, Francesco Marras

We’re in a fast moving situation with a pandemic that changes daily – nothing is certain resulting in no hard planning. Live events have been cancelled or tour dates rescheduled for later in the year, or in some cases 2022. The entertainment industry is being starved and left in the red.

Bands are waiting for a message to ping – it’s back on, off you go and normal life resumes – or maybe not. Like being stuck in a holding pattern waiting for permission to go. Forever on amber?

But the Tygers are preparing themselves for the green light. After the departure of guitarist Micky Crystal in April 2020 – a member for seven years and releasing one of their best albums in Ritual – time has come for someone else to step up, and into the cage.

Welcome Francesco Marras originally from the warm Meditteranean island, Sardinia, but now based in Germany… Yes, I live in Germany now. I love my country but it’s not the best place to live for a musician. Everything happened for me in Sardinia, I was born and raised there. I got into music at first because of my older brother. I started to listen to heavy metal with Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind album when I was only 8. The music inspired me to learn to play guitar at 11. I’ve been playing for 27 years now.

Francesco started playing guitar by jamming with friends then formed a band….I always wrote my own music and founded a classic metal band that later became Screaming Shadows and we recorded four albums.

In the Name of God (2006)

So you know your way around a studio ?

Yes the first album Behind the Mask was released in 2003 and was self-produced.

Both In the Name of God (2006) and New Era of Shadows (2009) came out for the Italian label, My Graveyard Productions, and were recorded mainly in my recording studio in Sardinia. Night Keeper was recorded between my studio and Mattia (drummer), Elnor Studio. We mixed the album and it came out in 2011 for Jolly Roger Records.

Then in 2011 I started my solo career where I recorded two more albums and worked as a session musician.

Now you’ve joined the Tygers will you be looking to use that studio experience ?

Yes in the last few month we have worked very hard writing new songs for the next album and I can say that we are very happy about the results. We will start the production soon and we are going to release an EP to open the road towards the new album.

How did the job in the Tygers come about ?

Growing up listening to English heavy metal I knew of the band, and thanks to a dear friend of mine, who told me they were looking for a guitar player, I read the post on the Tygers’ official Facebook page and sent in a video of the two songs they requested – Don’t Stop By and Hellbound, both from the Spellbound album.

For a long time I didn’t get any answer so I wasn’t expecting to get the job – but here I am in the end.

How do you feel about following in the footsteps of Sykes/Purser/Robertson/Crystal, and what will you bring to the table ?

It is a great honor for me to follow them, the band has a long tradition of great guitar players and I’m here to keep the tradition alive. The basics of Tygers music are great solos and powerful guitar riffs, and that is what the fans will have with the new album.

At this time I am recording a lot of new material as I have the possibility to work from home but the thing I miss most is playing live. I really can’t wait to share the stage with my new band mates and meet all the Tygers’ fans around the world – Rock’n’roll!  

Check the official Tygers website for new releases and news:

Tygers Of Pan Tang – The Official Site

Interview by Gary Alikivi January 2021.

RAW MEAT IN THE SONIC MINCER #3 – Looking back at music weeklies: OZZY, TYGERS & NWOBHM.

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 like Damned/Cramps/Costello. Take your pick of front covers splashed with Strummer/Coverdale or Pat Benatar.

Pat Benatar, front cover Sounds 20.12.80.

In the early ‘80s North East based music journalist Ian Ravendale worked for Sounds, when I interviewed him in August 2018 he talked about that time…

‘I was freelancing at Sounds, writing articles and reviewing gigs, some of which were of local bands. One time the Tygers of Pan Tang were supporting Saxon and I’d gone along. I’d previously written a review of Saxon which included something along the lines of ‘in six month time they’ll be back playing social clubs’.

At the gig, Tygers guitarist Robb Weir came up to me and said ‘Biff (Byford, Saxon vocalist) is looking for you’. Fortunately he didn’t find me….Not yet, anyway.’

North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal feature by Ian Ravendale, Sounds May 1980.

An edition of Sounds in May 1980 featured a renowned NWOBHM article that Ravendale wrote featuring Tyneside metal bands Mythra, Fist, Raven, Tygers  and White Spirit…

‘A lot of local bands I reviewed were from Sunderland, Newcastle and South Shields. I’d already written articles about the Tygers, Fist and Raven. Geoff Barton, the assistant editor at Sounds, asked me to source a few more bands for a 4,000 word article. ‘The North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ was born’.

Back in November 2017 I asked Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist Robb Weir if he was aware of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal…

‘Only when I read about it in Sounds, a two page spread by Geoff Barton. He had started writing about the music – he may have coined the phrase ? Reading it I thought, so we’re NWOBHM eh (laughs).

Robb also talked about how a review of their first single in Sounds was instrumental in the early success of the band, and had no idea about the fierce storm ahead…

‘In 1979 we went into Impulse Studio in Wallsend and recorded ‘Don’t Touch Me There’. They took a chance and pressed 1,000 copies. We got the single reviewed in Sounds newspaper so the next pressing was 4,000. Then Neat label owner Dave Woods was approached by MCA and did a deal. MCA pressed around 50,000 copies. But our success still hadn’t sunk in. You’re just in it you know, the musical blender getting whizzed around’.

Tygers of Pan Tang – Wildcat tour dates.

Weir added that the music press helped create a good feeling about the band, but change was in the air….

‘We had done the Wildcat tour, a sell out across the UK. There was a buzz in the music press, full page adverts in Sounds, NME, Melody Maker and Record Mirror. It was all going really well. But a meeting with management said ‘with the singer you have we can’t further your career outside the UK’.

After seeing a notice in a music weekly, vocalist Jon Deveril made his way up North and was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. He told me about that time…

‘I was gigging around South Wales with Persian Risk and saw an ad in Melody Maker about the Tygers looking for a new singer. I very much wanted to join them. I got in touch and came up to Newcastle for an audition and got the job. My life changed forever. A once in a lifetime chance, I still can’t believe my good fortune’.

Music journalist Ian Ravendale continued slogging around the North reviewing bands. He told me about an Ozzy gig he worked at…

I found metal bands easy to take the piss out of – and I did. I remember my opening line ‘What I want to know is, how is Ozzy Osbourne so cabaret?’. This stimulated very angry letters like ‘How dare Ian Ravendale slag off Ozzy. I’ve seen him and he was great’  

Geoff (Barton, Sounds Assistant Editor) never said to me, ‘We’ve got a big metal readership can you go easy on them’ He never wanted me to do that.

Ozzy Osbourne back page apology in Sounds 19.12.81.

In 19 December 1981 issue, a full back page apology from Ozzy appeared. He cancelled his British tour and a full explanation was offered promising to return with ‘a show like you’ve never seen before’.

His fans were disappointed but the apology through Sounds was a good move. His popularity didn’t suffer and returned to a sell-out tour exactly a year later where I saw the band at Newcastle and Leeds.

Ozzy and ‘Ronnie’ the dwarf. Sounds interview 24.4.82.

The Speak of the Devil tour controversially featured a dwarf he named Ronnie – a reference to the new Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Ozzy would bring the dwarf on stage and hang him. Ozzy was right, I’d never seen that before.

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.