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 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 – or maybe not. Like being stuck in a holding pattern waiting for permission to go. Forever amber?

The Tygers are preparing themselves for a 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.

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Bush, Sounds front cover 30.8.80

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

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

Ozzy Osbourne, Sounds front cover 4.10.80.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singles review, Sounds 4.10.80.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Alikivi  January 2021.

SMELLS LIKE TOON SPIRIT

New book ‘Closest Thing to Heaven’ produced by MiE Fielding and Simon McKay captures ‘70s & ’80s Newcastle music scene.

The 96 page book is a photographic montage of fashion, faces, venues, record shops and home-made flyers – and readers of this blog will be familiar to some of the bands featured.

‘We refer to Newcastle having more of a ‘village’ feel to it back then as everyone seemed to know everyone else. Thing is, how were those gigs organised as they were often well attended. There are faces that I’m sure will be remembered, and not a tattoo or mobile phone in sight…explained Mick.

The main focus of the book are black & white photographs of North East bands Raven, Danceclass, Venom, White Heat, Angelic Upstarts and Tygers of Pan Tang tightly packed in with The Fauves, The Carpettes and Punishment of Luxury.

Mick added…As well as established acts playing in front of large audiences we tried to reflect the increase in energy as punk, new wave and electronica caught hold. What unites them all is that they were performing in Newcastle in an era that has to be the most creative in the city’s illustrious history’.

There’s even a couple of early shots of Prefab Sprout in a pub in Jesmond, a young Jimmy Nail before TV fame as Oz in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, and is that a snap of Neil Tennant pre Pet Shop Boys?

How did the idea come together Mick?

Closest Thing to Heaven was very much a side project as it’s not the kind of thing I generally get involved with as I’m heavily into the avant-garde in both music and art. I’m a member of dumdum SCORE previously known as Ju JU Pell Mell pictured in the book. Simon was a member of the band The Said Liquidator and runs the fanzine Eccentric Sleeve Notes, he also DJ’s on Post Punk Britain.

I put the idea of a book forward to Simon who I’ve known for many years and he agreed to get involved immediately. We needed a ‘reason’ to do the book and decided we’d like to raise money for a music charity.

That lead me to fellow Northumbrian musician Kathryn Tickell who had set up the Young musicians fund with the aim of providing money for instruments for kids who couldn’t afford their own. So it was arranged that our royalties would go directly to the fund.

What was the inspiration behind the project ?

Like Simon I was part of that Newcastle scene, plus I had a number of 35mm negatives and photographs that were taken during the late ‘70s and ‘80s. I knew Simon was also a meticulous collector of artefacts of the time. He saw the importance of stuff back then so he also came up with a treasure trove of related material.

Once we’d put our collective resources together it was a case of trying to contact other musicians who had been active during that period – many are still going – and asking for help. Luckily everyone was extremely helpful including rock photographer Rik Walton.

How long did the project take ?

The book came together over a period of around 18 months in which time a lot of the pictures needed restoration so I spent many hours on photoshop.

The next problem was how to present the book whilst avoiding the need for accuracy of names of band members as we soon realised that including individual names would be an impossible task after all these years.

What are your aims for the book ?

I think we’ve done a pretty good job in reflecting the Newcastle scene around that era and hopefully it will bring back some great memories for people as it did for Simon and myself, and above all it will raise cash for the Young Musicians Fund.

Looking ahead, the book was to be launched with an exhibition in Newcastle City Library, and an event featuring some music and associated art. However like many other things of 2020 they had to be cancelled but hopefully we’ll have a proper launch in the Spring of 2021.

The book was available from 3rd December 2020 in all high street shops, and available online through Amazon or direct from Tyne Bridge Publishing at Tyne Bridge Publishing | Newcastle City Council

Note that Tyne Bridge (Newcastle City Libraries) operate a skeleton staff because of Covid. To date they have shipped 100+ advanced orders, any potential buyer would need to be patient if ordering direct from them.

To contact Simon McKay go to the following links:

Home | Eccentric Sleeve Notes | Post-Punk Interviews, Photos & Music

Post Punk Britain | Free Listening on SoundCloud

Interview by Gary Alikivi  December 2020.

METAL TOON, METAL CITY – video filmed in Newcastle for new single from Chief Headbangers, Raven.

On Tyneside during the ‘70s and ‘80s rock music was heard from Sunderland to South Shields, bounced over the river Tyne to Whitley Bay and Wallsend – the vibrations were felt in Newcastle. A North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal was coming in.

Riding the wave were Fist, Hellanbach, Mythra, Tygers of Pan Tang and Venom pushing metal to its limits and discovering a new energy. Another of those bands was Raven.

Now based Stateside, but originally formed in Newcastle in 1974, early gigs saw the trio cutting their teeth on North East live circuit of working mens clubs. Headline gigs at Newcastle Mayfair and Dingwalls gained the band a solid live reputation. The gates were opened, and the band went onto UK support slots with Iron Maiden, Ozzy and Whitesnake.

By the early ‘80s two albums ‘Rock Until You Drop’ and ‘Wiped Out’ were recorded in Wallsend’s Impulse Studio on the Tyneside label, Neat Records. Then a call came in from America.

Raven were at the forefront of speed metal spawning the big four beasts from the United States – Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax and dragging Metallica out on their first, and scorching, tour across the USA. We know where they ended up. These were life changing moments. Raven knew their future was Stateside and subsequently signed to Megaforce and then major label, Atlantic.

Fast forward 40 plus years and the band are still hitting it hard with new single ‘Metal City’ from their forthcoming album. The music video was filmed on Tyneside capturing iconic structures like the Angel of the North, Tyne Bridge and even St James’ Park home of Newcastle United. I asked bassist and vocalist John Gallagher did filming stir up any memories when you were at the locations ?

It definitely stirred up some memories especially with one part of the shoot. We were driving to one of the locations when I mentioned “I grew up down that street there” and our video guy Paul said “Then let’s check it out!” So the footage with me playing the bass is in the backlane in Benwell where we played football as kids.

After ‘Top of the Mountain’ this is the second track released and both are very strong opening singles, I asked John are the band putting down a marker for what the listeners can expect from the rest of the album ?

Very much so. Top was the perfect choice as the first song as it sounds like one of our early songs dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century!! And Metal City is not only the title track but it’s a real anthem type song.

(Yep, added to trademark Gallagher scream, check out the geet big chorus!)

The rest of the album runs the gamut from crazy fast songs like The Power, and a tribute to Lemmy in Motorheadin’. Added to super aggressive tracks like Human Race and Break plus a bit of an epic in When Worlds Collide. So there’s variety, and all heavy with ‘all killer, no filler’.

How do you look at this album compared to previous releases ?

This one is a belta! We actually think this album is the best thing we’ve ever done, for a band that’s been around the block as long as we have that’s really a case of laying down the gauntlet to many of the other bands of our era who are putting out ‘ok’ albums.

The band have just released new European tour dates, when was your last gig pre – covid ?

Our last shows were on the Monsters of Rock cruise which departs from Florida. We did the pre-party show in Miami and a show on the cruise. Always great fun, and we actually did Chainsaw for the first time in about 30 years. We can’t wait to test drive these new songs on stage!

Watch the video on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtKKmm6ibOM&list=RDjtKKmm6ibOM&start_radio=1&t=20

Check official website for tour dates and album release:  https://ravenlunatics.com/

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2020.