HEARTBREAKER : in conversation with Lee Robertson, former member ‘80s rock band ‘SHE’ (part 1)

‘She’ were a rock band based in North Tyneside who recorded two singles in the 1980’s. Fronted By Karen McInulty, bassist Billy Germaney, drummer Paul Defty, guitarist Ken Riley and Lee Robertson guitar & keyboards who I met up with earlier this month.

I was surrounded by music, there was always instruments at my Nana’s house and my uncles played guitar, when I was at Tynemouth college I played guitar and wanted to be in a band.

In 1981 I got in touch with a lad called Ken Riley, we started jamming together in his house then formed a band. We were playing cover songs and bounced a few original ideas around. Ken had a superb ear for melody, chorus and memorable hooks.

Then it was a constant revolving door of trying out drummers, bassists, singers, it wasn’t working so we put an ad in the Newcastle Chronicle. Bernadette Mooney, who you have already interviewed, answered the ad and fitted in, we eventually started rehearsing with a drummer.

We were rehearsing in Preston Grange Community Centre in North Shields when Billy Germaney walked by, heard us and asked to be in the band. I went to see him play live in his band and he was streets ahead in quality, he also looked the part so we rang him up and he joined the band.

For a name we knocked a few ideas around but I think it was Billy who came up with ‘She’.

When did you start playing live ?

We started gigging with our first at Preston High School, North Shields in 1982. Our set was a mixture of rock covers and raw originals, we got on like a house on fire with Bernadette but with the style of our new songs the vocal wasn’t working out so we parted ways after a few gigs. She went on to front War Machine and done well releasing an album on Neat records.

So it was back to the drawing board for us. A friend recommended listening to someone she knew, it was good of her to do that but we were after more serious people not just friends of friends, as we were devoting more and more time to the band.

Eventually we did invite her along to the Church hall where we had the gear set up. I’ll never forget this as long as I live.

In walks a really shy person and sits down on the seat in front of us while we were warming up. We started playing the Pat Benatar song Heartbreaker. We could hear her singing along really ripping into it – this was sitting down without a mic!

I looked at Ken, he looked over to me, it was a moment we knew something special was happening. We turned up our backline and nodded for her to pick up the mic. The power of her vocal was incredible.

The range, the timbre, the softness of her voice – that was the job on the spot right there…..and that was Karen McInulty.

We knew we were a bit rough so got stuck in to rehearsals to polish up and tighten. Then we recorded a few songs to tape and took it to Mingles rock bar in Whitley Bay – famous for Tygers of Pan Tang playing their early gigs there – the pub management said yes and the gig went well. We played a lot of pub gigs after that all north of the Tyne up to Blyth.

One night at Mingles we were approached by the Tygers of Pan Tang management, Tom Noble and Graeme Thompson, they asked if we were interested in signing up so I took the contract and looked it over, handy as I was a Law student then. We had our heads screwed on and were determined not to fall in to any traps.

It was understood that this was a management contract to get to a certain point and then it would be revisited. First thing they suggested was getting in Paul Defty on drums, as I’ve said before sometimes friends don’t work out as we were taking it more seriously.

Paul was well known as a great drummer throughout the music scene in the North East and adding him to the line-up was the final piece in the jigsaw, he and Billy just clicked.

We all thought we were tight as a sharks arse but when Paul came in the band were solid as a rock and he locked everything together. The impact was immediate.

The management got us working every day, Monday to Thursday was rehearsal and gigging Friday, Saturday and Sunday where we travelled further – even to the Iron Butterfly in Peterlee with the Pauline Gillan band opening for us!

During the early gigs did the band have any laughs along the way ?

I remember one gig we had just played the Friday rock night at Sunderland Mecca when Karen said ‘you’re going to have to stop the van’. After drinking a few sherbets we thought she might be ill so we pulled over and all got out.

Can you remember Rik Mayall and the Comic Strip who done the spoof TV documentary about a metal band on the road called Bad News ? Karen said ‘I’m not getting back into the van until you all say we’re Heavy Metal’! (laughs)

Did management have a positive effect on the band ?

The management contacts really started to come into play with our Newcastle Mayfair debut supporting local band Emerson. I spent a lot of time watching bands at the Newcastle Mayfair so to be on stage there was incredible.

That was around 1984 and we played the Mayfair a few times supporting Terraplane, Wishbone Ash and Vow Wow then eventually headlining with local metal band Tysondog opening. Other North East gigs were Redcar Coatham Bowl and Newcastle Riverside.

We were virtually guaranteed an appreciative audience up here but we put on a coach for our first gig in London at the Tunnel club which was beside a glue factory – it stunk when you got off the bus all you could smell was dissolving horse bones.

But it was a great experience playing in front of strangers and we went down well.

What was your experience of the studio ?

We went into Neat recording studio in Wallsend to record the 7” single Never Surrender and Breaking Away produced by Keith Nichol. The 12” included On My Way which to be honest I preferred.

Later it was remixed by Jon Verity (Argent) and Fred Purser (Penetration/Tygers of Pan Tang) in Jon’s Yorkshire studio, the track got into the top ten of the National rock charts.

Did the band do any radio, appear on TV or film music videos ?

For promotion DJ Little Jeff was always good to us, he supported the band by playing our single at his rock nights in Newcastle Mayfair. In 1985 Karen and I were interviewed on The Tube talking about the new single and some upcoming gigs.

We were also asked to play TX45 which was produced by the same team as The Tube. The show had North East unsigned bands playing every week and we done two tracks Breaking Away and Still Need You. ‘One Hand, One Heart’ was the other band that night, and the comedian Chubby Brown.

I’m not that tall and our guitarist Ken is a little shorter than me but when Chubby came into our dressing room he looked Ken up and down and said ‘F***ing hell when you’re on we’ll have to put up a sign saying do not adjust your TV set the guitarist really is only 5 foot tall’. He was brutal with his jokes, they had to stop filming a few times. 

The Neat single also got us on the Channel Four rock show E.C.T, we played our current single Never Surrender and our next single New Start. That was a superb experience because it was the last show of the series and they had a big after show party.

We were rubbing shoulders and having drinks with all the bands and rock stars we had watched playing live at the Newcastle Mayfair and City Hall.

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How did the TV appearances come about ?

The management would ring and say get the band together and we’ll meet at The Cannon Inn, North Shields. We walked in and Chris Cowey was there, Chris was the main man for TV he worked on Check it Out, The Tube and went on to do many other music programmes including Top of the Pops.

He had already heard our single, we had a great chat in the pub and then asked are you interested in being on the telly ? So it all went from there, it was a no brainer really.

On E.C.T we were on with Warlock and Magnum. We had the dressing room next to Magnum who were a lot older than us, seasoned pro’s really, we were all 20 year old Geordies let loose in London living the rock star dream appearing on TV!

We were shouting, laughing, joking, just very loud when Wally the Magnum bass player knocked on the door and in his very dour Brummie accent asked us ‘Can you please keep the noise down people are trying to sleep in here’ (laughs).

Read part two featuring Kerrang, Girlschool, London Marquee and find out what Lee is up to now.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   November 2021

RUNNING WITH THE PACK ‘We had a gang mentality, we weren’t scared of any band’ back to the start with drummer Ged Wolf

Blast Recording Studio in Newcastle is the venue to record more stories for the blog. There has been over 50 interviews and over 6,000 views since starting in February this year. This time it’s Ged Wolf who has been drummer with North East heavy metal bands Tysondog and Atomkraft giving him many fantastic memories and great stories which he has shared here – let’s get started Ged.

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Who were your influences and how did you get involved in playing music ? ’As a drummer I loved Cozy Powell, he was a hero, but what got me first into drumming was my brother. He was in a band with Tony Bray the Venom Inc drummer. Before they became Venom they used to rehearse on a Saturday at Clegwell school in Hebburn. I’d go along there and inbetween breaks used to have a knock about on the drums. I found I was natural, never had a drum lesson in my life’.

‘Then Christmas morning when I was 13 year old my brother bought me a Premier red sparkle drum kit. The noise was a nightmare for my parents so I used to put t-shirts on my drums to dampen it down haha. I got into listening to rock bands with other kids at school and in the meantime my brother started managing Venom and I ended up on the road crew. Used to go to the rehearsals and got a background in how things worked. Ended up as back up drummer for the band when I was 15, never had to stand in but I was there in case’.

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‘My very first gig at Newcastle City Hall was watching Whitesnake, (pic.above with Cozy Powell 3rd from left) the second was Bad Company and I remember seeing Twisted Sister at Newcastle Mayfair. You had to be over 18 to get in and I wasn’t old enough then but was with my brother and mates so snuck in with them. The Mayfair was the hallowed ground with a bar in it and surrounded by all the big boys haha.

It was a great sweaty gig but the very next day flew out to America with Venom to do a couple of shows. Out there they had Metallica supporting. They only done two shows at the Paramount Theatre in New York but they made a big impression.
We all lived together in one big house for about three weeks, it was the crew, Venom and Metallica. But me and the other drum tech Gordon were too young to go out drinking and watching bands with all the others so we stayed in the house and got drunk. But living with them was great, we had some real adventures haha’.

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‘The first gig in New York was memorable, we had made some huge bomb pots the size of footballs, you know Venom was all about the show. Well the guy in charge of the pyro was out of his head on something and he ended up loading the pots twice. The bombs went off at the start of their first song Witching Hour, one of the bombs went down through the stage creating a big hole. The other one went up over the crowd, past the balcony and embedded into the back wall. There is a plaque there now, Venom 1983 haha.

But the explosion blew the whole backline so for the second gig we had to get all new equipment. I’ve never had to work so hard all my life it was 24 hours non stop. I was that tired I was asleep under the drumriser when Metallica were playing. It was the only place I could stretch out haha’.

‘I was in the studio at NEAT records as drum tech when Venom were recording. I remember they were working on a new song Countess Bathory and Tony the drummer popped out for something to eat so I filled in on drums and played with Conrad and Jeff. I worked out the drums for the song. So when Tony got back they said Ged’s worked it out just do it like him!’

‘But I didn’t want to be a roady all my life, I wanted to be in a band, see the lights, hear the crowd an all that. I had ambitions of my own and had all these studio and touring experiences at an early age, and was considered a pretty good drummer in the North East.

One day I saw an advert in local newspaper The Chronicle for a band wanting a drummer. Thing was I had just got the Venom drum kit as Tony Bray had got a new one built, a Viking drum kit the biggest in the North East. So mine was second biggest haha. But I didn’t tell my brother I was going, I just went for the audition and didn’t tell the band my connections with NEAT and all that, kept it all quiet. I just turned up at the Coach and Horses pub in Wallsend with only a three piece drum kit – and I got the job !

I was drummer in Tysondog. They were like a Judas Priest sounding band so it was all fill’s which was fine for me. Every rehearsal after that I used to take an extra piece of kit so it ended up a twelve piece’.

‘But I wasn’t happy, I was a good 6-7 years younger than the others so as a young one I wasn’t getting listened to, but other aspects I had more experience. I was also a bit of a hot head you know. Well we recorded an album with NEAT records and just before it was due to be released I left the band. So that was it. They got in Rob Walker to replace me, great lad, good drummer’.

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How did the Atomkraft job come about ? ‘About 6 months after leaving Tysondog I was in NEAT Records and Venom bassist Chronos came up to me and said there’s a guy you should talk to. That’s when I met Tony Dolan. He was a bass player, so we had a few jamming sessions and got to know each other. It was going well, just playing a few Motorhead songs stuff like that, just bass and drums.

He had a band called Atomkraft but wanted to update it. They used to wear jeans, t shirts and bullet belts, it was like the press photo for Ace of Spades. We needed to freshen things up and arranged auditions for a guitarist and got 16 year old Rob Mathews in, he was from Pelaw. Tony was from Wallsend and I was from Jarrow. So at the time Atomkraft was just a three piece’.

‘We had punk influences, the metal thrash scene had that, we all loved AC/DC, I also loved Kiss but mix it all together and that’s what we were. The attitude side of it was from punk that was a big part of it’.

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‘We wrote, rehearsed and recorded at NEAT Records and came out with our first album Future Warriors in June ’85. Our very first gig was supporting Slayer at the Marquee in London which was Slayer’s debut European gig. We all went down there with our gear, done the soundcheck and out pops the assistant manager of the Marquee asking who’s in your roadcrew? Well we had 14 people on our crew haha. Basically it was our friends from Newcastle who came down wanting to see the gig haha’.

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‘The stage was so small I had to arrange the drums with Slayer’s drummer Dave Lambardo and see what was the best way to do it. We were supporting them and he played drums facing the side of the stage which was a bit awkward but we sorted it out. In the end he said can you lend me a pair of drumsticks I haven’t got any ? I said yes it’s the least I can do.

Well we’re on stage but after only three songs of our set the whole backline goes off. Even though we had 14 roadies not one of them knew what they were doing. We found it was the guitar that had gone off so me and Tony played along then after 30 seconds I just smashed my whole drum kit and threw it into the crowd. I’d just bought a new kit that was back home so I thought, fuck it, smash this one up !

We went off stage everyone is howling, funnily enough it went down great. We got some great press off it. Anyway stage is cleared and ready for Slayer to go on. Dave Lombardo says to me have you got them drumsticks ? – I’d hoyed everything into the crowd haha. So my drum roadie had to go out and get some back for him haha.
Yes that was Atomkraft’s debut gig. Then after that for about six weeks we went over to Europe with Venom and Exodus and had a great time’.

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Atomkraft only played a few gig’s in the North East. Was that a deliberate decision ? ’Yes by 1986 Atomkraft turned into a 5 piece and in came DC Rage from South Shields and Ian Swift on vocals. At a trial for that line up we got a 25 minute support slot with Girlschool at Newcastle University and then we played The Riverside at Newcastle.

But I was gutted at that gig because a lot of young kids couldn’t get in. The thing was at Atomkraft we were once at the Mayfair and someone next to us was talking to his friends saying ‘that’s the band that everyone has heard of but nobody has seen’. I thought that was a great compliment. We weren’t bothered, we knew we hadn’t played Newcastle, that’s just the way it was’.

‘Sometimes it’s not about ability it’s about determination and focus to where you want to go. We had that as Atomkraft, we used to go to the Newcastle Mayfair on the Friday and Saturday nights getting drunk but always made sure we rehearsed every Saturday and Sunday, that was our focus and dedication. Putting the groundwork in that’s how we got those tours. There’s no substitute for rehearsal’.

‘We had a gang mentality of it’s us against you, we don’t care if you like us we just went out on stage and done the best we could we weren’t scared of any band. We made sure if we played live or recorded we were rehearsed and ready to go. We went out with some of the top American bands and if you weren’t up to it you were off the tour, but we put the groundwork in and worked really hard’.

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‘Through our hard work and the management, in the space of two years we done three major European tours with Venom. They were at 5-6,000 seaters some were 10,000. We were young kids compared to them.

There was a point in 1983 when Venom were the biggest selling independant band in the world – not too bad for some guys from Tyneside. Venom were the big boys they brought over Metallica and Slayer for European tours. But the difference was that those bands ended up on good record labels that supported them with promotion.
Now there is two bands Venom and Venom Inc, it’s not a competition between them I’m friends with them all, it’s good what they are both doing’.

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Have you any memorable gigs ? ’A stand out gig for us was in ’87 The Longest Day at Hammersmith Odeon with Agent Steel, Nuclear Assault and Onslaught. There is a video of that and it went live on Radio One. Another stand out gig was when we toured with Nasty Savage and we were the first British thrash band to play Poland. The security was 2,000 armed troops circling the crowd. There was around 40,000 people there they loved the British bands. It was video’d and a live album was made which we never saw a penny from’.

Atomkraft’s biggest audiences were Holland and Germany. Another memorable gig was the Dynamo in Eindhoven. Testament and Onslaught were on the bill and Stryper were headlining. For that we had the Future Warriors image which was Mad Max style. We got off the tour bus heading for the stage and went past Stryper who looked at us and said what’s going on here ! Our vocalist Swifty had injured his hand so we gaffa taped his mic to his hand haha.

Marshall Amps had just brought out Jubilee stacks which were silver, we had 12 either side so our image and our stage presence really stood out. The crowd were jumping, absolutely bouncing, I’ll never forget it. That was the gig somebody threw something on stage, it was like a cannon ball with a fuse burning, everyone saying it’s a bomb ! It roll’s in front of my drum riser, everyone splits off the stage, so I do the natural thing and tell my drum roadie to go and get it haha. Turned out to be nothing just burnt itself out’.

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‘The headliners Stryper were a Christian band, and on that day nobody was allowed to swear, it was part of the contract. Well our singer Swifty went straight out there on stage ‘How the fuck ya doing Holland’ haha. But on the side of the stage Stryper just gave us the thumbs up, they loved us really’.

Was image important ? ’Yes we wanted to stand out, everybody was doing the Metallica thing, jeans, ripped t-shirts you know but the thing we had was as we progressed from a three piece to a five we sounded like Venom, a bit of Motorhead and Kiss. We were speeding up, the guitar sound was getting crisper, we knew we had to up or game.

But we were on NEAT Records who never put money into their bands and all American bands coming over on Music for Nations were getting money thrown at them for tour buses and that. We never got one advance from NEAT Records and we were selling a lot of records’.

What has music given you ? ‘I was talking to me dad years ago and he said he joined the merchant navy and saw the world – I joined a band and saw the world. I’ve been to so many places and met so many people, some good some bad, but I would never change anything. All those years ago learning how to play the drums in Clegwell School in Hebburn got me here today, it’s been one big adventure’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2017.

Recommended:

WARRIOR: The Hunger, 12th April 2017.

VENOM INC.: Hebburn or Hell, 28th July 2017.

TYSONDOG: Back for Another Bite, 5th August 2017.

BACK FOR ANOTHER BITE -with Kev Wynn, bassist with NWOBHM band Tysondog

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Have you any funny stories from gigs ? ‘I could fill a book really !!! Some of them unprintable haha. But one of the stupidest was when Tysondog were in Scotland and before a gig in Glasgow we were due to be interviewed by the legend that is Tom Russell on his radio Clyde Rock Show. We were trying to find the studio, no sat nav’s in them days !
We stopped in the Clydebank area and asked these young kids for direction, I noticed some of them were carrying guitars. Well years later around 1991 I’m in the Cardiff Post House hotel on business when I get talking to, well pissed really, with Wet,Wet,Wet, yes the pop band.
They had just performed at Cardiff Stadium in front of 50,000 people and after the gig the drummer Tommy Cunningham bought about a dozen bottles of champers in the hotel bar. Tommy says to me ‘Kev I hear you used to be in a band ?’ When I told him yeah Tysondog you won’t have heard of them we were a NWOBHM band from the 80’s.

Well from his reaction he nearly died. He jumped up shouting ‘No fuckin’ way man !’ ..yup …it was him and some of the other lads out of Wet, Wet, Wet, who we’d asked for directions ha ha.
They said that night they tuned in to the radio to hear us being interviewed and were telling everyone they’d met some rock stars haha.
Oh forgot to tell ya that after the radio interview we all jumped into our hotel swimming pool bollock naked. They had security cameras so most of the staff had a good laugh at a bunch of skinny, pissed up, hairy arsed Geordies !’

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Where did it all begin ? ‘When we were 16 year old we just played the local church halls and youth clubs. Then progressed to pubs in the Newcastle area’

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Kevin also talked about his influences…‘Early on I liked Bowie, Queen, Sweet, T.Rex. then proper rock of Deep Purple, Sabbath and Zeppelin. That lead me to heavier stuff like Judas Priest and Saxon. I decided to get involved in playing music after watching my first concert The Sweet at the Newcastle City Hall. They were heavy as f##k !’

What were your experiences of recording ? ‘Our first demo was a live recording of a gig in a working man’s club in Ashington, Northumberland. We sent a copy to NEAT records who had just started releasing heavy metal records. They asked us to record a single there. It was our first time ever in a studio and we came out with Eat the Rich’.

(In 1983 Eat the Rich was released as a 7” single on NEAT records. The studio also released two albums by the band. Beware of the Dog in 1984 and two year later Crimes of Insanity, which included a version of School’s Out, the Alice Cooper anthem).

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What are Tysondog doing now and have you got any plans for the future ? Yeah Tysondog released their third album Cry Havoc on Rocksector Records in 2015. In September this year we’ve got a gig at the Gaura metal festival in Brazil with Anvil. Later that month we go to Manchester for the Grimm Up North festival with a few bands on the bill including founder members of Saxon’.

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‘Then in December it’s the big HRH NWOBHM festival in Sheffield with Satan, Raven and a few others before a few club shows in Newcastle and over to Holland. Last gig this year is in December with Girlschool, Diamond Head, Tytan, Spartan Warrior and a few others, it’s a great line up at the Blast from the Past festival held in Belgium.
We are busy planning more European dates for 2018. Yeah that’s enough to be getting on with’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2017.

Recommended:

WARRIOR: The Hunger, 12th April 2017.

VENOM INC: Hebburn or Hell, 28th July 2017.

ATOMKRAFT: Running with the Pack, 14th August 2017.