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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We had one guy called Skippy who said we need to have one of those moments like The Beatles on the rooftop. So one Saturday afternoon, it was reported in the Sunday Sun, we went down to Old Eldon Square in Newcastle broke into an office and ran a cable up to the monument in the middle and performed. It was the first time anybody had played there and it hit the papers. It didn’t end well for Skippy, he got arrested and deported back to Australia.

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

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

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

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

Every now and then you would do a gig where there would be two bands. One night we played The Rex Hotel in Whitley Bay and there are two stages there. Now this was a sign of our ambition cos we used to try and arrive later than the other band so we could headline the gig – we were top of the bill at The Rex (laughs).

The other bands would do it as well cos we saw them driving slowly along the back lanes. Beckett were one of the bands cos I recognised their posh Merc – we only had a van. We done a gig with a band called Jasper Hart. The singer was Brian Johnson, the band must have been the forerunner to Geordie, and of course he ended up in AC/DC.

Most times we’d be out gigging and finish around 2am in the morning and coming back we’d go to a cafe near Central Station in Newcastle that was open all night. All the bands would go there, we discovered we didn’t need sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the first interview here:

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

Gary Alikivi November 2019.

THE FIXER – in conversation with former Impulse Studio and Neat Records owner David Wood

The next person to feature on this blog was owner of probably the most influential independent heavy metal record label in the 1980’s, a label that spawned Chief Headbangers Raven and Venom, who were major influences on the multi-million selling Americans, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeath.

So what was he like ? Was he the Don Arden of Tyneside ? Am I to be flown out by private jet to a yacht on the French Riviera or picked up by a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce and driven off to an exclusive restaurant ? Sadly no, it was just a misty September morning when I nipped on a ferry, crossed the river Tyne and taken to a café in North Tyneside by a man wearing a fez.

What or who inspired you to start Impulse Studio ? When I left school I ended up as a Park Keeper in Wallsend Park then found a half decent job as a Technical Assistant at Proctor and Gamble. I was there for 3 year, it was well paid at £11 a week so I had a few quid to go out on a Friday night with me mates, but I couldn’t see myself staying there. For a 21st birthday present off my parents I was given a ticket to go to America on the Queen Mary.

While sightseeing in New York I came across this recording studio called Talent Masters. I went in and got talking to a guy who worked there called Chris Huston. I found out he used to be guitarist in The Undertakers from Liverpool. They had a hit record but he left the UK to be a tape technician in the studio. I’d always liked music, my instrument is the piano while not much of a player, but was really interested in this studio.

So when I returned home on the Queen Elizabeth ship I began to play around with a bit of sound recording. At that time a teenagers club was open in The Borough Theatre in Wallsend called The Manhole. This was around 1966 and people were listening to The Beatles and locally The Animals had made their name. It was a great meeting place was The Manhole, graphics painted on the walls, flower power you know, and a lot of good bands played there. That’s where I really got interested in the music scene. There was a similar place in Tynemouth called The Cave which was underneath The Gate of India Restaurant. (There was also a teenagers club in Beach Road, South Shields called The Cellar Club run by Stan Henry and his mother. Stan later opened The Latino and The New Cellar Club where Cream and Jimi Hendrix played).

cellaradvert

Advert for the opening of The New Cellar Club, South Shields. Taken from The Shields Gazette December 1967.

Yes I used to go to The Cellar. I’d drive to the ferry at Howdon, get on there with my car, you could in them days, then get off at Jarrow. It was a great building I think it was in the basement of their house where Stan’s mother ran the club. South Shields and Sunderland had their own places to run music from, it was great. I ended up doing some work for Stan, we ended up doing his sound equipment and for a lot of other people to keep the business ticking over.

In the Manhole club I met a band called The Chosen Few, and in them were Alan Hull, Alan ‘Bumper’ Brown on bass, singer was Rod Hood, guitarist I think was John Gibson and keyboards was Micky Gallagher who eventually played for The Blockheads, and he’d also played in The Animals when Alan Price left. They were really good and had a recording contract with PYE records. They recorded down in the West End of London at Radio Luxembourg studios. They put a couple of singles out.

Going back to The Manhole Club, that just shut one day and never reopened. I don’t know why maybe someone out there knows something about that. The Borough Theatre was built in 1906, it was a music hall at first, then a cinema, then a bingo hall. I got to know the manager and asked him for some space to run a studio. The studio was in the dressing room and the entrance to the studio was through the old stage door. There was a little booth where the doorman would of sat, well before our time (laughs).

How did you develop the space into a recording studio ? Literally built it up from scratch Gary, it took years to get it all done. At first we used egg boxes for sound proofing then bricked up all the windows. Anything was used for padding because we never had enough money then and at first we only had a mono then a stereo studio. We then purchased a 4 track, then an 8 track, eventually a 24 track machine but this was done over 10 or 12 years. This was all by the 1980’s and by then we had the run of all the building and moved the studio to the top floor, which wasn’t very popular with the bands as we had no lift. Eventually Impulse Studios were on all 3 floors.

What bands did you record and who did you get in as sound engineer ? One day I bumped into Alan Hull (Lindisfarne) by then The Chosen Few had split up, he was working as a nurse at St Nicholas Mental Hospital and still writing songs so I invited him down to record some. Impulse at that time recorded local bands. We were a progressive studio and probably recorded most people in the region who sang and played at one time in their careers. Everything then was recorded onto quarter inch tape. At that time we started to organise pressing records.

Sound engineer was Micky Sweeney, a great character, really popular with everyone. I used to do some recording as well. Micky ended up working with Lindisfarne who were born in the studio because it was there that Alan Hull got together with various members of Downtown Faction. They played together and got to know each other and it all came together.

You recorded an album with North East comedian Bobby Thompson, how did that come about ? I knew his manager Brian Shelley and he said Bobby is doing really well around the clubs do you fancy recording him ? I thought yeah we’ll give it a go. So we recorded him in Rhyope Poplars Club and Newcastle Mayfair. This was around 1978. It was around an hours recording that we put out and got Vaux breweries to sponsor it, ironically Bobby didn’t drink then and there he was on a promo poster with a pint of beer.

Soon as we put the record out it took off, they couldn’t get enough off it, straight to number one in the local charts. Every shop was selling bucket loads. It was phenomenal. Nobody could of appreciated the way it took off like it did, he even appeared on the Wogan show. But his humour didn’t travel well, he was shy of being in other places but up here in the North East he was absolutely fantastic. He could relate to the man in the street up here – the debt, the poverty, the wife and the war, he was incredible really.

With the label doing well, was Bobby responsible for Neat records ? Ha ha well with the profits from Bobby the studio came on in leaps and bounds in no time at all, so yeah we’ve got to thank him for it. We started Neat records as an alternative to what we were doing. A couple of early singles and one by a band called Motorway which was pop, not heavy metal, then a song by Jayne McKenzie written and engineered by Steve Thompson. Then Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Fist came along and suddenly we’ve got what became a New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Venom added to that and before we knew it we’ve built up a library of metal records.

Was there any rivalry between the top four North East metal bands – Fist, Raven, Venom and the Tygers ? Ha ha yeah they probably hated each other. No, listen, musicians are very much their own people you know. I don’t blame them. If they are the guitarist they are a ‘great guitarist’, you can’t perform in front of a dozen, hundreds, or thousands of people if you haven’t got an ego. You couldn’t stand on stage if you are a wimp, you’ve got to have something about ya – and they all do.

For Venom, first gig they played was at a church hall in Wallsend and they decided to have pyrotechnics and smoke. That all went off at the start and that’s the last we saw of the band for the whole set – they were playing behind a screen of smoke.

Did you deal with any managers or did the bands represent themselves ? I dealt with Raven directly but some of the bands had managers. One of them was a butcher (laughs) then Venom ended up with Eric Cook who really worked hard for them.  He was very enthusiastic and got a lot of things going for them. Thing was he had no experience but nobody else did really with this New Wave of Heavy Metal, it was all new. And that is something to remember about that whole scene, they were trying to play and we were trying to market, we (Neat) were all on the same level. We were balancing the recording, arranging tours, marketing, it was all interesting times, sort of in development, and some nightmare situations.

How did recording on the Neat label work for bands ? We did singles at first and they were tasters trying to get some interest, get picked up by bigger labels, that sort of thing. Some of them would end up on compilation lp’s later and some of the early Neat stuff were the demos. The first Raven album went into the national charts which was a surprise to all of us. But that was the progress we were trying to make.

How did Tygers of Pan Tang end up on MCA record label ? MCA were interested in the Tygers first single and put it out on their label which put the Tygers in a position to sign an album deal. Through their enquiries I got to know Stuart Watson who was head of A&R so I took the whole Neat project to MCA. They ended up recording albums by Fist and White Spirit. But MCA didn’t get their teeth into what we were doing so it all came back to us. It could have gone further but major companies are looking for big numbers, they didn’t want to sell 5,000 albums they wanted to sell 50,000 albums. We would have been happy to sell 1,000!

If you did sell that many how would the profit be used ? It would all go in the kitty, we wanted to progress the studio and the label – but we didn’t have any Lamborghini’s you know.

How did the label work for Raven ? We ended up doing 3 albums with them and took them to America and worked with Johnny Z at Megaforce Records based in New Jersey. They did some touring over there and Neat were managing the band at the time, paying them a retainer every week. When they came back the band had signed with the Americans. ‘Thanks for telling us’ I said, but hey that’s all in the past and we came to an agreement to release I think a live album over there.

Was that the bands natural progression to go to a bigger label ? Yes I suppose that’s fair comment to say that. We had gone as far as we could as basically a smaller outfit. I liked the band, I liked the idea of a 3 piece because it makes it easier to ship around. A 5 piece band can be much more challenging to get around on tour and in the studio.

Did the label have contacts to sell records in other countries ? We tried to get like-minded people in European countries, Holland, Italy etc, to do that but sometimes it was hard. A lot of time was spent trying to get it up and running but perhaps the label never reached it’s full potential. We sold to local record shops in the North East but a good outlet was actually mail order.

How does it work for a band if they released a single in say 1980 and the track ends up on a compilation album years later ? All the contracts were given over to Sanctuary and they had a section to deal with all the necessary releases.

What were Neat paying for as in terms of recording and tours ? We would put money up for tours and we once bought a tour bus for Fist, which was a big mistake cos it got wrecked inside. Their first single was ‘Name, Rank & Serial Number’ and ‘The Wanderer’ came much later, Status Quo ended up doing that, sounding very similar. Doing a more commercial song is a way in. Again I liked Fist and thought they had great potential, Keith Satchfield is a great singer and songwriter.

But just managing it all, controlling it all was a nightmare. There wasn’t a bottomless pit to fund it and you just try your best with the resources. What was surprising about bands playing in the UK was there wasn’t many chances to play on the big festivals, England was a hard place to play. America and Europe was mainly where the market was. I remember Holland was a good place for the bands to go.

Neat released a lot of singles would that have put the label in a good position ? Yes it helped the studio, marketing etc when the next single or album come along to record and promote.

Was there a time when Neat weren’t in a good position ? Yes often, I remember one time a band wanted to go on tour and it was £4,000. A lot to lay out because you don’t get it back cos the band don’t make much playing live. There was a lot of costs involved with going on the road.

When did Neat records fold ? Jess Cox (former Tygers of Pan Tang vocalist) got involved and we set up a separate label called Neat Metal, we put a different catalogue together, started licencing from different labels – a different approach to it. At one time we didn’t have any of the original Neat stuff on the catalogue. Eventually Sanctuary Records came in for the label and did some re-releases. A lot of independent labels have been moved around over the years.

With that I checked my watch and time was getting on so we agreed to meet up again soon where Dave will tell more stories about Impulse Studio including Cilla Black, Joan Armatrading and Sir Lawrence Olivier.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

 

HEED’S DOON – with John Gallagher from Chief heabangers RAVEN

By 1980 Raven had released their first single on Neat Records. The Gallagher brothers – the original pair not the lot from Manchester who wanted to live forever – made their way out of the North East …For young lads like us there was only two ways out of Newcastle…..and we weren’t good footballers.

They began slogging the hard yards and laying the foundations for speed metal…It all changed when we made contacts in the US and did our first tour with a young rag tag outfit called Metallica opening for us.

Was there a plan in the early day’s – gig loads, buy a van, get signed ? The running joke was ‘C’mon let’s git in a van and gan doon  t’ London!’. Slightly impractical! We did quite a few one off support gigs. It was in the back of the truck, drive down to London, play the Marquee with Iron Maiden and drive back straight after the gig.

We just worked, playing shows, writing songs. One thing we’ve never had is a lack of song ideas. Often a riff from a sound check turns into a song. Getting the Neat deal changed everything totally. We had worked hard for years so when the opportunity arrived we dove in head first.

The other main bands on the Neat record label were Fist, Venom and Tygers of Pan Tang. Was there any rivalry ? No. We actually got on well with all of them. There was some passive aggressive crap with Venom where we thought time, resources and money were going to them, and they thought they were going to us….of course the money went elsewhere (laughs).

Did you ever play on the same bill ? We actually played two shows with the Tygers. A show pre-Neat at the Guildhall in Newcastle and a show in Wallsend which was John Sykes first gig with them. We also did at least one show with Fist at the Mayfair and a few with White Spirit. All great lads.

Raven went on a UK tour with Girlschool in 1982 where I saw them at Newcastle City Hall… Aye a 27 date ‘City Hall’ type venue tour of the U.K. was very, very good for us. Their crew treated us well and we got on great with the girls. I ‘ave no idea how it came about but we had done a few shows with Motörhead, and Girlschool had the same management.

Was it a good match up in terms of style and audiences ?  It was a great fit and a great opportunity for us, they were at their peak.

Did you have any warm up routines before going on stage ? No I never bother with all the ‘la la la la la LAH’ vocal stuff. I just do it!

Did you play any festivals in the UK ? Festivals (laughs). Well we did the Wrexham festival with Motörhead and Twisted Sister. The only other rock festival then was Reading and that was a bit political I guess.

Did mainland Europe have better attended gigs or a more organised set up than UK ? Probably both. But it was the fervour of the fans that was surprising. We knew basically in England the further South you went, the fans were more reserved and thankfully that’s kinda gone by the wayside these days. But our first gigs out of the UK were in Italy and Holland…and they were just NUTS!!!

Have you any stories from meeting other bands while on tour – in motorway cafes, gigs in the same town, and you must have come across Lemmy ? Jeez.. actually no! We did run into Fast Eddie Clarke at some motorway cafe back in 2005. But that was it really.

Nearly 40 years since the US tour with Metallica. Did you ever think Raven and Metallica would still be playing in 2019 ? If back then you had told me Metallica were gonna rule the world as they subsequently did, I would have been doubtful. But they evolved fast.

It was great to get to play a stadium show with them in São Paulo a few years back and hear James (Hetfield) tell the crowd how much they appreciated Raven taking a chance back in 1983 and taking Metallica on tour with them. That meant a lot to us.

What was the impact of that tour for both bands ? Well we saw the opportunity and how huge the US really was. We knew this was where we had to be to move forward and escape the ‘indentured servitude’ at Neat.

The tour had a huge impact on us and on Metallica. Their first tour, they soaked it all up and learnt. It really was a hell of an experience !

EGW3gCDXkAAYcOd

Has there been a ‘magic’ moment on stage or in the studio when you thought ‘This is what I should be doing’….Every. Single. Night. We have given blood sweat and tears to do what we do and feel humbled and fortunate to be able to do what we love. Plus to be able to travel the world to do it!

We know we are better at it now and more importantly appreciate it more. We have a new album ready for early 2020 release and are gearing up for lots more touring!

For more info contact the website:  http://www.ravenlunatics.com/

or follow them on Twitter @official_raven

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2019.

 

ROCK CITY LIVE with Robb Weir, TYGERS OF PAN TANG guitarist

rob

Since releasing their last album in 2016 the Tygers have had a successful two years equalling or maybe bettering the NWOBHM days back in the 80’s. 2018 has seen them playing gigs around the UK and Europe with Kiss, Ozzy and the Dead Daisies plus a recent headline show in Japan. Can they add more kudos to their well oiled machine? With a live album release ‘Hellbound-Spellbound ‘81’ from the line up of Jon Deverill (vocals), John Sykes (guitar), Brian Dick (drums), Rocky (bass) and Robb Weir (guitar). Was this a recording of that line up at its peak?

Yes absolutely. John Sykes played on the Wildcat tour in September ’80, but not on the Wildcat album and Jon Deverill joined us just before Christmas 1980. We were writing for the next album and with the ‘new blood’ in the line up the sound changed a little bit because those two great guys brought a different edge to the Tygers, more melodic I think. Wildcat had a heavier feel to it and a bit of a punky element to it as well. I played it in its entirety a while ago and didn’t realise how much punk music had influenced me.

The opening track on this live album, ‘Take It’ was written by John Sykes and me. When John first joined the Tygers he came round to my house to learn the songs for the then, upcoming Wildcat tour. During these sessions John said I’ve got an idea for a new song. He played me the front end, (opening) of ‘Take It’ I liked it, added in something I had, played it together and added a chorus and ‘Take It’ was born. Unfortunately it was the only song that John and I wrote together. I was used to writing by myself, John and Jon Deverill lived in the same flat so they worked on songs together. As for both Spellbound and Crazy Nights the song writing guitar riff ideas were 50/50 between John and me. Then we would put them in the pot and they become everybody’s….adding drum parts and bass.

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What were the nuts and bolts of making this live album ? We were on the UK part of the Spellbound tour in 1981, it was the second show of the tour at the Nottingham Rock City venue. Normally you would record a live performance on the last day of a major tour when you’ve had 30 odd dates to have a bit of a practice! But the Tygers never do anything easy, always back to front and upside down, we’re at the front of the queue for that (laughs).

Our record company at the time MCA hired the Rolling Stones mobile recording unit. Which was quite revolutionary in those days, it was an articulated lorry with an amazing recording studio inside of it and was owned by The Rolling Stones. It was a business venture for them and they hired it for location recording. This mobile studio was made very famous in the seventies when it went to Montreux to record Deep Purple and ‘Smoke on the Water!’ It was state of the art at the time. It parked outside Nottingham Rock City running all the recording lines inside so effectively all your equipment was double mic’d. One mic for the live sound in the hall, and one mic that ran back out to the truck for recording purposes.

 Who was engineer on the recording? Chris Tsangarides who had produced both the Wildcat and Spellbound albums had come out on the road with us to do our front of house sound. However, on this special night he couldn’t be in two places at once so he did our sound check for us and set the sound up. The guy who came with the huge sound system that we took on the road with us did front of house sound mix that night.

In those days you took your show on the road with you. It wasn’t like in Academy’s these days where everything like lights and sound system are already in house, and all you need is your backline. In those days when you went into a hall it was empty. So you had to put your sound system and lighting rig in. Consequently touring then was a lot more expensive. When you did a big tour with a big production, you almost lost money but you did it to promote your album hoping next day people would go to the record shop and buy it. That’s where you would recoup your money for the tour.

On the day of recording Chris Tsangarides set the sound up and then went into the mobile where he did the sound check again so he could set the levels and tones on the recording desk. When we were playing live Chris did what you call an ‘on the fly’ mix as well.

What was the set up as far as sound equipment and crew for the Spellbound tour? On the Spellbound tour we had two 40 foot articulated tractor pulled trailers, and a nightliner bus for the crew. We had a 16 man crew working for us. It was quite a big do as they say and in 82 when we did The Cage tour that was an even bigger production, both productions cost a lot of money. Of course you hope to get bums on seats to recoup a bit of that back. Support bands would pay to come out on the road with you because that’s the way it was done. That money all went towards the headline bands costs.

As far as I remember when we went out we took the Malcolm Hill rig out which was famed for AC/DC using it. I’m pretty sure it was a 35,000 watt rig, which was a lot of noise coming out the front of the system at you! Then on stage we had about 12,000 watt’s of monitors. I used to have two 1,000 watt wedges in front of me and they were on full tilt. We used to play loud, really loud (laughs).

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The live recording was at Nottingham Rock City. Was that a memorable day in the Tygers history? Actually there was a prequel to this show. We were staying at The Holiday Inn in Nottingham and we were all absolutely laden with flu apart from John Sykes. We were so bad our Tour Manager called for medical advice. A doctor came out and said we shouldn’t be playing, particularly Brian our drummer because he was an asthmatic. He had an array of inhalers which he used to take in-between smoking his Embassy regals (laughs). The doctor actually wrote us out a sick note to excuse us from playing, I don’t know who we were going to show it to! Maybe Tom our manager has still the sick note? (Laughs). But there was no way we weren’t playing, the gig was sold out and we were recording it.

After the gig did you hear the recording played back? At the end of the show John Sykes, who was as bubbly as ever, went to see Chris in the Rolling Stones recording mobile, they had a discussion and John came back and said Chris doesn’t think it’s very good. I can’t remember whether he had said we had made some mistakes, maybe not played very well, or something had gone wrong in the recording process, I honestly can’t remember. Nothing more was said and I guess the record company (MCA) who paid for the whole deal must have been gutted. Again there wasn’t an inquisition about it, it was just left.

It was all recorded on 2 inch Ampex tape and our manager Tom Noble took them away and they lived under a bed in his spare bedroom for years. It was only Chris and John who had heard anything from the tapes.  Brian, Rocky, Jon Deverill and myself hadn’t heard anything.

The life of the band moved on until 2000 when I said to Tom the Tygers manager, ‘you know those live tapes from ‘81 should we have a listen to them?’  He said, ‘yes, they’re under the bed in the spare room.’ So we asked Fred Purser who replaced John Sykes in 1982 and recorded The Cage album, then toured with the Tygers. When Fred left the band he went into the production side of the music business. Fred now has a wonderful studio called Trinity Heights in Newcastle. He agreed to do it but we had to hire a machine to play the tapes on because they were out dated. There was nothing in the North East so we had to ring down to London and hire a 24 track Ampex tape playing machine. Fred took delivery and transferred the tapes to digital format but because of the age of them we were told we probably would only get one chance to copy them as the Ampex tape could disintegrate! Luckily we did it.

What did the recording sound like? Fantastic, Tom and I couldn’t understand why the tapes hadn’t been used? The only thing that was wrong was because of time, the first four tracks on my guitar had ‘fallen off’ the tape. So I sourced the same pick up I had on my Gibson Explorer at the time, put it on a suitable guitar and went in the studio and recorded my guitar part’s again for the first four tracks. That is the only thing that has ever been touched so this is a complete live album with no overdubs, unlike a lot of live albums back in the day!

It has now come out years later that on some live albums back then maybe only a snare drum was live and the band went back into the studio to record most of it again– a bit naughty, but I understand band’s want their best work recorded. But if you can’t play live should you really be in the business? I’m very proud that ours IS live.

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Robb and Soren Anderson.

Why the re-release now? Well Fred mixed it and it came out in 2000 on general release. Three years ago when we signed with Target Records the C.E.O Michael Anderson, asked whether we would be interested in putting out a remixed version by Soren Anderson, who mixed our current album. So it’s been on the back burner for a while. It just so happened the timing was perfect because Soren started a mix on the album and two weeks later he appeared in Newcastle playing with former Deep Purple bass player, Glenn Hughes. I went to see them at the Academy here in Newcastle and met Soren, he said he had a day off the next day in Newcastle. Michael McCrystal (Tygers guitarist) managed to get us some studio time at Blast Studios, through his academy of music connections. This is where we recorded all the backing tracks for our current album.

So we went into Blast, he put the album up as they say, listened to some of the mixes that Soren had done and I suggested some things. All that’s happened is the tones of the instruments have been sharpened up, levels have been changed, we found backing vocals which were too low in the original mix, it’s come out really well, it’s a huge sounding live album now to be fair.

The record company are bringing it out on various formats, CD, vinyl and a box set including a signed tour poster and a ticket to Nordic Noise Festival next year in Copenhagen. It’s a great package. There’s also a tour pass from 1981.

‘Hellbound – Spellbound 81’ is available 21st  December 2018 via the official Target Records website and in the shops 25th January 2019.

Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

For more Tyneside stories why not subscribe to the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #3

Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. ‘Pity Me’ features later in this story by Steve Thompson, songwriter and ex producer at NEAT records. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well known recording studio. From 1978 some of the bands who recorded in Guardian were: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7”. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior had made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

STEVET

STEVE THOMPSON: (Songwriter) ‘I had quit as house producer at Neat Records in 1981. I had begun to realise that I was helping other people build careers whilst mine was on hold. I was becoming bogged down in Heavy Metal and whilst there’s no doubt I’m a bit of a rocker, I really wanted to pursue the path of a songwriter first and foremost. Production might come into it somewhere along the line but I wanted that to be a sideline, not my main gig. So I set about composing the song that is the subject of this story, ‘Please Don’t Sympathise’. This is what happened.

I had just cut a single with The Hollies. Bruce Welch of The Shadows was in the production seat for that recording in Odyssey Studios, London. I signed a publishing deal with Bruce and remember signing the contract at Tyne Tees TV Studios in Newcastle, Hank Marvin was witness. Bruce had heard an 8 song demo of my songs and selected 4 favourites from it. He asked me to make some more advanced demos of those 4. I could have gone into Neat/Impulse Studio but I still wanted to carve new territory so I went to Guardian Studios in Pity Me, County Durham. I played bass, keyboards and guitar on the session with Paul Smith on drums and I brought my old mate Dave Black in to do vocals. I spent two full days on those demos, Bruce Welch was paying and he really wanted me to go to town on the production. Then a producer called Chris Neil entered the story. Chris had worked with Leo Sayer, Gerry Rafferty, A-Ha, Rod Stewart, Cher and others. Chris and I had just had a massive hit with his production of my song Hurry Home. Chris was by now having a bit of a love affair with my material. Chris had asked Bruce to give him first dibs on any of my new songs that came along. He picked up on two from the four songs I’d just demoed in Guardian. One of them he sang himself under the band name Favoured Nations. But the recording pertinent to this story is his production of Sheena Easton’s new album Madness, Money and Music. He recorded my song Please Don’t Sympathise for that album. The album did very well. It went top 20 in the UK, peaking at 13. It also charted in several other countries and did particularly well in Japan’.

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‘About a year later Celine Dion also recorded the song in French ‘Ne Me Plaignez Pas’. It was a huge hit single in Canada and certified Gold status. The album it was featured on sold 400,000 copies in Canada and 700,000 copies in France. I never did go back to Guardian but that is a lot of action from just one demo session. Interestingly, the literal translation of Ne Me Plaignez Pas is Please Don’t PITY ME ! Spooky huh?’

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‘These days I’m doing this song and many others that I wrote for various artists with my own band. I’ve uploaded a video collage here https://vimeo.com/266141205. It starts with the Guardian demo with Dave Black singing. The demo doesn’t sound that sophisticated after 37 years but that’s where it started. Then there are clips of the Sheena and Celine versions and then my band doing it live. Sadly Dave Black is no longer around to sing the song as he did on the demo but Terry Slesser does a fine job of it. Jen Normandale comes in on the bridge in French ala Celine!’  www.steve-thompson.org.uk

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This needs to be confirmed by a visit down to Pity Me, but  a quick search of 26-28 Front Street on google maps reveals a well known supermarket where the two terraced houses were. I wonder if customers buying their tins of beans and bananas know the rich musical history that Gaurdian Studios contributed to recording in the North East. The Tap & Spile is just next door, was that the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment ? If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios it’ll be much appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

Kev Charlton HELLANBACH: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

1980: The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside, 11th February 2018.

ROKSNAX: Metal on the Menu, 9th March 2018.

NEAT BITES – Making Records on Wallsend

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Neat Records were based in Wallsend, North East England. The label was established in the late 70’s by Dave Woods, who was the owner of Impulse Studios. It was notable for releases by Venom, Raven and Blitzkreig who are acknowledged as major influences on American bands Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. Songwriter and producer Steve Thompson helped set up Neat and produced the initial recordings…One day Dave Woods came in and said there’s a band who are making a bit of noise out there why not get them in and sell a few records? So in came Tygers of Pan Tang to cut three tracks. Incidentally it was to be the third single I’d produced for NEAT. Now we know it is known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and the tide was coming in that very evening haha’. 

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ROBB WEIR (Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘In 1979 we recorded, ‘Don’t Touch Me There.’  It had a release number 003 so we were in at the beginning of the Neat Record label story. We were the first heavy metal band to be recorded in the studio. So I’m very proud of the Tygers giving the Neat label a direction. Impulse studios took a chance and pressed 1,000 copies, that was a lot for a small independent label. Don’t Touch Me There was reviewed in Sounds newspaper which made a massive difference so the next pressing was 4,000 ! Then studio owner Dave Woods was approached by MCA record company, they wanted us! So Dave did a deal, essentially selling the Tygers to them. So MCA pressed around 50,000 copies of the single!’

BRIAN ROSS (Blitzkreig) ‘I remember the first time in Impulse Studio was great we made it feel like our second home. It came highly recommended as Tyne Tees TV used it to record their jingles there and we recorded a jingle Hot n Heavy Express which Alan Robson used on his radio show. It went well so we extended it into a single. NEAT put it out on a compilation EP. Now this studio was the label to be on, and I mean in the country not just the North East, I’ve recorded many tracks there as Satan, Avenger and Blitzkreig. It’s a shame it’s not there now’. 

ANTONY BRAY (Venom) Conrad was tape operator at NEAT doing a few days here and there and he bugged the owner Dave Woods about getting spare time in the studio for the band. He kept asking him ‘can my band come in on the weekend ? Woodsy got so sick of him he just said ok, just do it, but pay for the tape. So we recorded a three track EP and we thought it might get a little review somewhere. I was still working at Reyrolles factory then and one morning I wandered in and someone had a copy of the Sounds. Couldn’t believe it, there’s a two page spread about our EP, f’ing hell look at this. When Woodsy saw it he thought, I hate the band, think they are bloody awfull – but kerching!’

KEITH NICHOLL (Impulse studio engineer) ‘With Raven, their playing was always intensive but there were loads of stories and quite a few laughs. I think they simply wanted to do a better album than the first and then again the third. Any band would. Can’t remember if there was an official tour but they did loads of gigs. Good live band’.

HARRY HILL (Fist) ‘The first single we put out was Name, Rank and Serial Number and You Never Get Me Up In One of Those on the b side. We done a lot of reheasal and prep work so we were tight, ready to record. When we done Name, Rank we were on Northern Life TV. The cameras came down filmed in the studio that was 1980. Strangely the only piece of vinyl I have is our single The Wanderer. We started putting it in our set so yeah, went in and recorded it. Status Quo released a version a couple of month after us but honestly thought our version was better haha’.

GARY YOUNG (Avenger) ’I worked in the Shipyards near my home town but for about a year before that I worked at Impulse Studios in Wallsend which was where Neat Records were based. Due to this I was involved in a lot of recording sessions and some of them for what are now landmark albums like Venoms – Black Metal and Ravens – Wiped Out. I had my first experiences of recording there with my own bands and helping people out on random recording sessions. They were great times’.

DAVY LITTLE (Axis) ‘I remember Fist guitarist Keith Satchfield was in when we were recording. He was always track suited up. Getting fit and going on runs in preparation for a tour. I had met him a few times when I was younger I used to go and see Warbeck and Axe. Always thought he was a cool musician and writer. Plus a nice fella. We were very inexperienced and new nothing about studios. He  gave us advice on how to set up amps. Was very supportive I never forgot that. Also when we were in there a very young moody boy was working there. Making tea, helping get kit in. Always drawing. Asked to see some of his drawings. All dark, tombstones, skulls, flying demons…nice kid tho said he didn’t think we were very heavy metal. I agreed. He said “one day I am going to have the heaviest band ever”. I met Chronos years later in a club in Newcastle when he was fronting the mighty Venom. A nice lad’.

STEVE WALLACE (Shotgun Brides) ‘There was a kid called Richard Denton who grew up in the same area as us and he was working A&R at Impulse records in Wallsend. He persuaded the owner Dave Woods to take us on. We went into Impulse Studio and recorded the track Restless, that was engineered and produced by Kev Ridley in 1987. The b side of the single was Eighteen. We recorded the song bit by bit, tracking it up. Unlike a few other bands it wasn’t recorded by playing all the way through and off you go add a couple of overdubs, no it was fully tracked. It eventually ended up on a NEAT compilation album’.

PHASSLAYNE NEAT

MICHAEL MAUGHAN (Phasslayne) In the summer of ’85 Phasslayne were approached by Neat Records. Dave Woods was the main man there. What happened was we recorded a demo at Desert Sounds in Felling which they really liked so the label asked us to record a live no dubs demo in their studio in Wallsend. On hearing that Dave Woods signed us to do an album. But just before we got our record deal our singer left and everyone looked at me so that’s how I ended up doing the vocals. I think Keith Nichol was the engineer. For guitars I used my Strat and Maurice Bates from Mythra loaned me his Les Paul. We called the album Cut it Up, it’s on vinyl’.

KEV CHARLTON (Hellanbach) ‘We got a deal with NEAT records to record our first album. That was the best time. After rehearsing for months getting the new songs together we recorded the album which is a very proud moment in my life. Now Hear This came out in ’83 and was produced by Keith Nichol. I remember getting the first copy of the album, taking it into work thinking this might be me leaving the shipyards. It was one of the weirdest times of my life because it came out to amazing five star reviews and some of the big bands weren’t even getting five stars. I remember sitting in the toilets of Wallsend shipyard reading the reviews in Kerrang and Sounds, thinking this will be the last time I’ll be in the shipyard….but it wasn’t !’ 

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To read a comprehensive story of NEAT records get a hold of the book ’Neat and Tidy’ by John Tucker. It examines the history of the label, its bands and their releases including interviews with many key players in the Neat Records’ story such as label boss David Wood, producer Steve Thompson, Raven’s John Gallagher and Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn from Venom.

https://www.johntuckeronline.co.uk/neat-and-tidy-the-story-of-neat-records.html

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2018.

Recommended:

Brian Ross, SATAN/BLITZKREIG, Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

Harry Hill, FIST: Turn the Hell On, 29th April 2017.

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

Kev Charlton, HELLANBACH/BESSIE & THE ZINC BUCKETS: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

Robb Weir TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Doctor Rock  2017

1980: The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside, 11th February 2018.

Guardian Studio: Defender of the North 3rd May 2018.

LOUD AS WAR – interview with Def Con One drummer Antton Lant.

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Over the past year I have interviewed a few bands who take no prisoners when it comes to sheer power. If ya want to hear good ol’ bone crunching, face ripping, spleen removing, 100% metal. Def Con One are the go to band. Check out the videos on You Tube for their tracks 10 Bullets, Warface, Brute Force & Ignorance – you can’t miss ‘em they look like extras from Sons of Anarchy with muscles, tatt’s and shaven heads. Drummer Antton Lant looks back to where it started… ‘With my older brothers being in bands I’ve always been around music. I got an SG guitar one Christmas and used to jump around in my bedroom pretending I was playing Wembley Stadium haha. Back in the day I was massively into bands like AC/DC, Kiss and Van Halen. I loved the imagery of American bands Twisted Sister and Motley Crue which played heavily on my first band Slutt. Then I heard a band called Pantera and after that it all got much heavier’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ?  In my first band Slutt I started playing in South Shields pubs and clubs. We then got to tour Poland playing huge stadiums – 20,000 a night. Later we toured the UK playing mainly rock clubs. After Slutt called it a day in late ’91 I put a band together called Ezee but that fizzled out and I just kind of lost interest in playing but I was still writing. I was finding it hard to find a drummer who would play the stuff I wanted to play. My oldest brother is a drummer and he let me play on his kit and showed me some stuff which I liked so I swapped him my Steve Vai guitar for his kit. I then started looking for a band that needed a drummer so I could get some experience playing drums. I found some guys called Deadline, they didn’t really have a name set in stone and ended up being called Sanitys Edge. That was more metal in the vein of Megadeth, Maiden, that kinda stuff. I wanted to go heavier so formed Def-Con-One. Then I was asked to help out black metal legends Venom in the studio and ended up being the drummer for 10 year. We headlined some of the biggest festivals across Europe and played various tours. I got to play on three albums. Obviously having my name linked to Venom helped me a lot with Def-Con-One. Our record companies were big Venom fans. I was also playing in another band full off ex Venom members called M-pire of Evil. This put me in touch with the record companys – contacts I wouldn’t of got without the Venom link. Over the years I managed to achieve a lot for Def-Con-One. But it was hard, you had to put the work in’.

 

What were your experiences of recording ? ‘Recordings were great fun. Loved it in a studio compared to recording in your bedroom. Venom got to record in some huge studios. I made one album with Slutt, three albums with VenomResurrection, Metal Black and Hell. Two with M-Pire of Evil – Creatures of the Black and Hell to the Holy and two with Def-Con-One – Warface and 2. First album with Venom was Resurrection. We flew into Hamburg, Germany and  lived in the studio it was crazy. The studio had a kitchen, showers, sauna, tv room the lot. It was awesome. Charlie the producer hired me a Pearl masters kit with different size bass drums which he loved to record. We followed Motorhead into that studio and he played us some tracks he had just recorded. It sounded massive. He was a real task master though. He had me play the songs through quite a lot of times so he could pick what he felt was the best performance. It was great fun. Wen I recorded Metal Black we were in the Town House Studios in London, in the same studio that Queen recorded all their classic albums. So that was awesome too’.

VenomTOWNHOUSE STUDIOS

Have you any stories from playing gigs ?  ‘Wow too many too tell and most you couldn’t publish haha. But here’s one. We played Hammerfest a few years back and the food that the bands get is ok. A band I know, Cradle of Filth were headlining, so backstage I made my way over to them. We’re sitting on their bus chatting and their vocalist Dani asked what the food was like. I told him and he said they don’t eat that, they had tokens for the restaurant. That sounded better. Next thing Dani askes their tour manager to hook me up and I was able to get the Def-Con-One lads big steaks and all the trimmings’. 

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What have you got in the pipeline for Def-Con-One ? ‘I helped out a few tribute bands last year which was fun. There was Ozzy, Twisted Sister and an AC/DC tribute. All really great guys, good fun and enjoyed it. In the Def-Con-One camp we have been really busy sorting out a few things and will be back gigging soon. We are actually recording at the minute. The band have got a few festivals booked but that’s very hush hush till they reveal the whole line up and announce it formally’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommendations:

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

WARFARE: No One Gets Out Alive, 8th October 2017.

OBSIDIAN: Bomb Tracks, 8th January 2018.

BLACK FORGE: Take No Prisoners, 18th January 2018.

SLUTT: Angels with Dirty Faces, 6th May 2018.

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #2 with SPARTAN WARRIOR

 

gaurdianadvert

Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well known recording studio. From 1978 some of the bands who recorded there: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7” single. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

SPARTAN WARRIOR 

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Dave Wilkinson (vocals): ‘Spartan Warrior recorded at Guardian Studio in 1983/1984. My abiding memory of recording there is that the studio was said to be haunted and that made for a lot of winding up. There were occasions when although we’d been booked into the studio during the day time Terry Gavaghan, the producer of Spartan Warrior’s first two albums, would often have us recording throughout the evening and into the early hours of the following morning… that was just his way of working. In fact it wasn’t uncommon for us to arrive for a midday start on a Saturday and be finishing up at 5:00am on the Sunday! Needless to say that a lot of the overnight sessions involved a lot of ghost story telling by Terry. The control room had a large glass window next to the mixing desk and and from there you could see into the room in which the band was set up to record. It was quite dark in that room and I think it was only dimly lit with a red light. I found myself in situations where there would be a couple of hours spent with Terry in the control room and he’d tell us about the various sightings of the ghost of a little girl and there had been occasions when peoples headphones had inexplicably flown off across the room during a take. We’d all be sitting there listening and making light of it and then in the early hours Terry would send me into the other room to do a vocal in the dimly lit room while the rest of the band stayed in the control room. To say that I was apprehensive would be an understatement!!

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‘On one occasion we were in there recording a track called Witchfinder for the Steel n’ Chains album and Terry thought that it would be cool for the five of us to record a Satanic Chant at the opening of the track. So after a lot of the usual ghostly tales we all went around the vocal microphone while Terry remained in the control room with a lad who I think might have been a neighbour of his who was helping him in the studio that day. We had a few runs through this chant and it was an unrehearsed shambles but he called us back in to the control room to have a listen. Terry set the analogue recordings running and we listened back… then the tape machine just ground to a halt and he pointed at the digital clock which measured the length of the track and it came up as six minutes and sixty six seconds… 666… just like that. Terry looked really worried and said you can’t have a clock showing 666 seconds and he was  telling us something sinister was at work probably brought on by the Satanic Chant. He said that we ought to abandon the idea before anything horrendous happened… he said the Chant could bring about terrible things if blood was spilled… I think he actually said “all you need is blood”. Then the lad got up to go into the kitchen to make us all a cup of tea and he banged his head off one of the monitors and split his head open… that was it… blood was spilled and we were all terrified. It was almost certainly a wind up. I’m pretty sure Terry could have done something to make the clock show 666 but the lad did actually split his head open. The Chant never made the album!

‘On another occasion during the Steel n’ Chains sessions we took a mate of ours along and of course the ghost stories started mid- evening. I was about to put some vocals down so the other four lads plus our mate went down the street to the pub and while they were away Terry hatched his plan. He wrote himself a one way conversation and then recorded himself whilst leaving gaps at the end of each sentence so that when he played it back he could speak to ‘the voice’ live in apparent conversation. He then speeded up the recording so that it sounded like a ghostly child speaking and not just that but speaking to our friend… to protect his identity I’ll call him ‘Steve’. Terry then rigged up a ghostly model using an old Airfix model skull with a wig on it, a microphone stand at half mast with a coat hanger and child’s nightgown hanging on it. So it just looked like a little girl in a nightgown with this awful skull face and long black hair. Then we waited for the lads to come back. Once everyone was settled Terry again started telling his tales of the ghostly sightings into the early hours of the morning. He’d managed to let the other Spartan Warrior guys know what he was planning to do when ‘Steve’ was in the toilet as he was going to need their help to pull off the prank. Guardian Studio consisted of three terraced houses and the recording facility was in the middle. Because of that there were multiple points of access and exit. So once Terry had had an hour or two of his scary stories he turned to recording and set away his pre-recorded ghostly conversation which went something like:-

Steve, Steve’.

Terry tells everyone to be quiet and asks ‘did you hear that’. 

Then it goes on –

Ghost: Steeeeeve.

Terry: Who are you?

Ghost: Steeeeve, Steeeeve.

Terry: What do you want?

Ghost: I want Steeeeeeeve

Steve: Tell it to fuck off!!

‘So the tape finishes and of course ‘Steve’ is concerned so Terry told him to go and put the kettle on. Off Steve goes to the kitchen where the Ghost Model is set up and of course he sees it, screams and runs back into the control room saying that he’s ‘seen it’. Of course we go to investigate but it’s not there because one of the guys has moved it into the toilet during the commotion. So ‘Steve’ gets calmed down and after about 40 minutes is asked to go and get some toilet paper out of the toilet to clean the tape heads with. Of course he sees the Ghost Model again and runs back into the control room screaming blue murder and we have to calm him again. In fact I think Terry told him that if he was going to mess about and unnerve the band he would have to go home and he gave him a bit of a telling off. Terry then walks ‘Steve’ to the toilet, puts the light on and no ghost… of course it’s been taken out of the back door and round to the front entrance and stood in the porch at the entrance to the studio. We all have a cup of tea and a bit of light banter then we get to work again but this time Terry asks ‘Steve’ to nip next door to get whatever the hell he was asking for this time. I forget, but naturally ‘Steve’ is reluctant to go. So one of the lads tells him that he’ll come with him. So the two of them head out of the control room into the adjoining recording area which is in darkness save for the red light. They walk beyond the drum booth to a set of double sound proofed heavy doors that lead to the porch and front street as well as Terry’s living accommodation. The first door was opened by whoever was with ‘Steve’ and he opens the second door to the porch which is of course in darkness and guess what he sees!

‘Steve’ comes hurtling back through the recording area, into the control room absolutely panic stricken, almost to the point of tears, just gasping for breath and in a right state. I honestly thought he was going to collapse and I really felt it had gone too far not realising that he was of such a nervous disposition. The icing on the cake though was when we all had to sit down with him and calmly tell him what had been done and he was reluctant to believe it. To convince him somebody went to get the ghost model and brought it through to the control room to show him. We all fell about laughing when he lost his temper and punched the skull in the face. Looking back it’s a wonder we ever got any recording done’.

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This needs to be confirmed by a visit down to Pity Me, but a quick search of 26-28 Front Street on google maps reveals a well known supermarket where the two terraced houses were. I wonder if customers buying their tins of beans and bananas know the rich musical history that Gaurdian Studios contributed to recording in the North East. The Tap & Spile is just next door, is that the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment ? If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios it’ll be appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

Lou Taylor SATAN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

Kev Charlton HELLANBACH: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

Neil Wil Kinson SPARTAN WARRIOR: Invader from the North 21st September 2017.

1980: The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside, 11th February 2018.

ROKSNAX: Metal on the Menu, 9th March 2018.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS – with Peter Whiskard bassist for North East eighties metallers Alien.

The North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NENWOBHM) was immortalised on the ’One Take No Dubs’ 45 released by NEAT Records in 1982. The 12” featured Black Rose, Avenger, Hellanbach and Alien.  I talked to Peter Whiskard bassist for Felling metallers Alien… ‘Derek our singer had a reputation for a no-nonsense approach to life. During a gig at the Mayfair he found himself the unwilling target of several beer vessels – thankfully plastic – thrown by a miscreant in the audience. He jumped off the stage, felled him with one blow and jumped back onstage without losing his composure or his place in the song’. 

How did you get involved in playing music and who were your influences ? ‘I sang from a very early age and learned classical piano. An early indication of my chosen instrument was when I occasionally played piano duets and always seemed to gravitate to the bass part. A defining moment was when I hit adolescence and something seemed to click when I was jamming along to records. Needless to say the classical piano was abandoned. My influences were from the sixties and seventies, early Status Quo, Free, Cream, Bad Company and The Velvet Underground’.

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When did you start playing gigs and what were your experiences of recording?  ‘I started playing gigs when I was fifteen with friends in the Felling area of the North East. I believe our first gig was at a youth club in the same building where we rehearsed. We didn’t really gig much and the last one was at the Sixth Form Common Room Disco! I went away to University and when I returned I formed a band called Bad Luck with the former singer. We did many local gigs and recorded a few tracks at Neat’s Impulse Studios where I met label boss Dave Wood. A self financed 45 single release came from these recordings. Unfortunately this band didn’t last long. Then I answered an ad in the paper for Alien in 1982. The place where a lot of Neat bands rehearsed was the Spectro Arts workshop in Newcastle and I remember once overhearing the tremendous noise of Venom practising one day when we were offloading our gear. The band had a chequered history in the time we were together but we were offered recording at Neat Records for the One Take No Dubs EP. We still had to pay £50 for the privilege – Dave Wood was notoriously stingy. The recording took perhaps only part of a day because the essence of it was to have a ‘live’ feel and there would be no extravagant nonsense like overdubbing and repeating the process to seek the ‘perfect’ take. Hence the title ‘One Take No Dubs’.

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‘The engineer for the earlier trip to Impulse with Bad Luck and the Alien session was Keith Nichol – a lovely guy who was patient and skilful. The band played together in the studio – this was opportune for Alien’s style as we were capable of flights of improvisation as can be heard in the middle section of ‘Who Needs the Army’, one of the up to now unreleased tracks from that session. In the recording session we were in fine form, especially Ron Anderson the guitarist who recently has sadly died. A track from the recording called ‘Absolute Zero’ also appeared on a compilation cassette called ’60 minutes Plus’ sold only through Sounds and Kerrang. A Neat Singles Collection featured the track ‘Could Have Done Better’ from One Take No Dubs’.

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What can you remember of Impulse Studio ? ‘Impulse Studios lived behind a fairly anonymous doorway in Wallsend, Newcastle. It was a small place, the studio walls were covered in the ubiquitous polystyrene tiles for acoustic absorbtion. There was an office where the day-to-day running of the business took place and also a special ‘green room’ where Dave Wood would make his deals and entertain the celebs. Our relationship with Dave Wood soured somewhat as the singer felt we were being exploited financially. The band fell apart by ’83. We briefly reformed to do a gig at the Classic Cinema in Low Fell.  After Alien I joined a band called The Blues Burglars who were quite popular at the time’.

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Can you remember any high points for Alien, TV or music video’s ? ’I’m afraid we weren’t together long enough to get established to record any TV appearances or film any music videos. Although we did play some gigs with Raven and others at Newcastle Mayfair. I’m afraid I can’t remember much about the gig with Raven but I don’t think we hobnobbed much with the other bands. The audience was pretty appreciative as that was during the heyday of Neat Records. We regularly played gigs in Felling such as the Duke Of Cumberland, and our gigs had a reputation for having a febrile atmosphere with an undercurrent of unpredictability. The singer was a powerful performer and had a great rock voice. We also had several friends in other bands on the Neat roster. I knew the drummer from Hellanbach who lived round the corner, and went to school with the singer from Emerson and Axis: two Neat bands which are relatively unknown. The singer of Axis was originally born Simon Blewitt but is now called Sam Blue and at one point sang with Ultravox as well as singing on The Streets’ hit Dry Your Eyes!

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘I have been a classroom teacher since I moved to Kent in 1986, but now I am semi-retired and teach guitar to Primary age students. I still play gigs regularly. I’m afraid I’m now playing in a folk/country band called John Doggerel and the Bad Poets. We comprise me on bass, guitar, and assorted instruments including mandolin, accordion and ukulele! We are based near Margate. I recently remastered and released a track which wasn’t used from the original Neat session called ‘Who Needs the Army’. Now available at iTunes and all good digital platforms’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

Brian Ross SATAN/BLITZKREIG: Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

Lou Taylor SATAN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Micky McCrystal, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Cat Scratch Fever, March 17th 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

Steve Thompson,( NEAT Producer) Godfather of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017.

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay, 24th August 2017.

Gary Young, AVENGER: Young Blood, 17th September 2017.

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES – interview with former Slutt bassist John Hopper

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Neat Records were based in Wallsend, North East UK. The operation worked out of Impulse Sound Studios. Neat were arguably the most instrumental NWOBHM label in the UK. The label is notable for early releases by North East chief heedbangers Venom, Raven and Blitzkrieg who are acknowledged as major influences on American thrash metal bands Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. One of the lesser known albums was from SLUTT. A gang of twisted metallers from Tyneside with their make up, leather and studs. They released one album in 1988. The original bassist John Hopper talks about those times…I remember signing the record contract in the rehearsal rooms. Our guitarist Antton walked in and said ‘right sign there’. We did, then got on with rehearsing. We didn’t think of asking someone to look at it first. It wasn’t ‘Right I’ll let my solicitor see it first you know ha ha’.

How did the band get together? ‘For a number of years Glen and myself worked at the Roman Fort in South Shields and the wages from there helped finance our instruments. Me on bass, Glen Wade on drums and a friend was interested in doing some vocals. We played some rough versions of Kiss songs, we were friends just messing around. Our singer had a friend over in North Shields who knew a guitarist… ‘He would be perfect for your band’ he said. Next thing a guy with a guitar, trem and long hair came over. That was Antton Lant. We didn’t know about his brother Conrad or Neat records but soon we got to know the connection with Venom. Anyway our first gig as SLUTT was I think at The Cyprus pub in South Shields. Later we went on to do a showcase for NEAT at Tiffanys’ nightclub in Newcastle. So that was our first step. In 1987 we played at The Queen Vic pub in South Shields and got paid £300 which we used to rent lights, dry ice etc. That gig was a blast..and was videotaped ..and the audio exists’. 

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How did the record with NEAT come about ? ’We first done a 4 track demo tape at Impulse Studios in Wallsend. We just recorded it live all in one room but additional guitar or anything that was needed we would drop that in later. The line-up was Antton on guitar, myself on bass, Glen on drums and our original vocalist. On that demo Glenn had the use of a Ludwig kit owned by Tony Bray from Venom – we asked them first like! That was in 1986 and the tracks from that demo were lifted and put on the album which was released in 87. That was the first version with the LP and remains unreleased but its archived. The album needed the new singers vocal on it. Antton was friends with a singer so Peter Seymour (RIP) came in, we rehearsed and it was great. Things were becoming real you know. We got forms for our passports as we were going out on tour, NEAT paid for those. Like any band we just wanted a break, yes we were fortunate with the link we had with Neat but we still had to put the time in, the rehearsals. The years going across the Tyne to North Shields, picking up Antton and his Marshalls, then coming back through the Tyne Tunnel to the rehearsal studio. Sometimes twice a week. SLUTT was full on, and commitment was first and paramount’. 

(The album was released on vinyl in 1988 with Neat catalogue number 1043. The album includes Angel, Breakin’ All the Rules, Revolution, Thrill Me and more).  

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Who came up with the idea’s for the songs ? ‘The music was from Antton and the vocalist. The rest of the band would write some lyrics too. We went back to the studio and recorded Peters vocals over the original master tapes. If some things didn’t sound right they were quickly changed. Kevin Ridley engineered and Conrad Lant produced. I remember Conrad sent me out for something to eat a few times he liked his squid and chips! But yeah they had both worked on the demo tape and then the album which was a totally different feel. There was more pressure, there was more ‘Sorry lads them backing vocals are not in key can you do them again’. There were plenty of sound effects put on it, backward drums and live crowd noises. We had a visit from a guy who ran the Venom fan club in France. There is a piece on the track Revolution, about the French revolution and this guy just spouts out something in French and we put it on the track, it sounded great. In all it took about 7 days to record I think’. 

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Who else was in the Neat studios then? I was amazed and sucked in to the Venom thing that had gone on in NEAT. We had heard their records and by 86, 87 they were a big band and basically this was their studio. Funny every other band there the Avengers, Atomkraft all wore leather and studs it was like a blueprint – we were similar to the leather and studs look. The Atomkraft lads were knocking about. Venom’s Tony Bray was always there and guitarist Jim Clare came in with an amp for Antton. He used it for his solo’s. It was only a small Galion Krueger but totally ripped the place apart you know. Venom manager Eric Cook (RIP) came in once or twice as I say Neat belonged to Venom and all their gear was there. I walked past one room and inside was bits of the stage show that they used. Another was Dave Woods’ office he was like the headmaster in his room…ha ha’. 

Did you promote the album ? ‘In 1988 just after we released it we done a few gigs in Poland. Nasty Savage were the main headliner, with Exhumer and Atomkraft. They were doing a European tour and we flew in for the Poland leg. We arrived in Warsaw and went to the train station.The train was like an army train, it was separate carriages with compartments and we got split up. Myself and Glen sitting next to total strangers, us with our tight jeans and long dyed black hair etc.. strange. Eric Cook (RIP) came along and took us to the food carriage. I got a bowl of soup with a raw egg in the middle. Well we hadn’t eaten for hours. For the rest of the gigs we had our own mini bus with a driver. It was only the journey from Warsaw to Katowice we got the train because it was a long trek’. 

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‘Eric Cook took us over there he was with us all the way and Tony Bray was the Tour Manager as Venom were in between albums or something. The tour was an eye opener because a serious edge kicks in. The first gig was at the Spodek Arena in Katowice in the south of the country. The arena is a huge ufo shaped building. The festival was called Metal Battle and started at 10 in the morning. We were the first English band on at 12.30. We only got half an hour at the most with no sound-check. The whole thing was broadcast on Polish Television. I remember at one point we were on stage and a woman with a handbag came on ha ha… I’m sure Eric or Tony pushed her on. The first couple of songs the front rows were fists raised, jumping up and down, there was 15,000 people there, it was unreal.

The second gig was at an ice rink in Poznan. It took about 4 hours to get there in our mini bus. It was the same bill but we weren’t looking forward to the gig. We weren’t sure about the make up that we were wearing then, so we talked to Nasty Savage about it and they said ‘Just do what you did yesterday, keep it the same, it’ll be ok’. He was right the crowd went berserk. Eric came back to the hotel with a bottle of champagne ‘Well done lad’s best band of the night’. We got paid and it was ok set ‘em up, vodka and orange, bottle of champagne, just live it up cos we aren’t taking anything back ha-ha’.

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Press day in Poland with Nasty Ronnie, Ian Davison (Atomkraft), Dave Ling & Tony Dolan (Atomkraft).

‘The last gig was in Gdansk in the north, a very industrial town. We went down great there as well. It was just the first date where it didn’t happen for us. Rock journalist Dave Ling covered it for Metal Hammer. I remember doing one of the press conferences with Antton. I didn’t like it though. All the big bright white lights and your make up is all smudged.. ha-ha’.

What was the next move ? ‘By now we had done the album, got back from the Poland gigs and were in rehearsal doing some new material. There was talk of backing Wrathchild at Newcastle Mayfair and doing a few other things but sometimes they don’t come off. There are highs and lows all the way through. So now our drummer Glen becomes uninterested with the band so he goes his own way. We get a new guy in on drums, very talented he was. We were over in Byker at Dons rehearsal rooms. After a period of rehearsals and photo sessions my head just started to drop you know. The dynamics of the band were changing, we were doing things another way and really I just didn’t fancy it. So I stepped back from it all and the band went on. How long was I in the band? Looking back I remember I was at Newcastle City Hall watching Motley Crue on the Theatre of Pain tour in 85 and we were rehearsing around then. That was at The Green Rehearsal rooms in South Shields. So fast forward to the end, I think it was 1990 when I left the band’.

What are you up to now? ’Now I work in the print industry I have been for over 25 years. I still love music and always will, I’ve ticked that box’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2018.

Recommended:

WARRIOR: The Hunger, 12th April 2017.

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

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

TYSONDOG: Back for Another Bite, August 2017.

AVENGER: Young Blood, 17th September 2017.