Chris Groom & Julia Revell trace the 25-year career of Tyneside's favourite sons
First published in Record Collector issue No. 198, from February 1996
The diappointing reception of "Pipedream" was, in part, off-set by the success of a Lindisfarne live album, recorded at Newcastle City Hall, and issued in Charisma's budget-price 'CLASS' series. The LP managed to capture the atmosphere and appeal of their live shows, with Side Two featuring a 24-minute coupling of "We Can Swing Together" and Woody Guthrie's "Jack Hammer Blues".
To build on their phenomental U.K. success, the band set off on an arduous American tour, which received amixed reception. By the time they returned home the strain was starting to show, and in April 1973 Lindisfarne effectively split in two. Alan Hull and Ray Jackson retained the name and put together a second line-up with keyboard player Kenny Craddock, Tommy Duffy on bass, Paul Nichols on drums and Charlie Harcourt on guitar. Lindisfarne MK II went back out on the road almost immediately.
Meanwhile, Laidlaw, Clements and Cowe recruited Newcastle vocalist Billy Mitchell, and became Jack The Lad, a more traditional, folk-oriented group which Laidlaw described as "asort of Geordie Fairport". The group proved to be popular on the college circuit and went on to record four albums. Three of these were for Charisma - "It's Jack The Lad", the excellent "Old Straight Track" and "Rough Diamonds" (produced by Fairport's Simon Nicol) - while the fourth, "Jackpot", appeared on United Artists. By then, though only Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell remained, the band having gone through a series of personnel changes. It's worth pointing out that the three JTL Charisma albums havebeen reissued on CD, and a revised line-up featuring Laidlaw, Mitchell, Jed Grimes, Ian Fairburn and Phil Murray is once again touring.
Lindisfarne MK II recorded two albums in their short time together. The first was "Roll On Ruby" in February 1974, which kept much the same sound as before but had a slightly harder edge. Surprisingly, only four of the ten tracks were written by Hull, though the ballad "When The War Is Over" and "Taking Care Of Business" were first class material. "Taking Care" was lifted as a single but, like the album, it sold poorly. Advance publicity for the single listed the B-side as "Tow The Line", though it eventually turned out to be "North Country Boy". It would intersting to know if any copies were pressed up with "Tow The Line" on the flip - however, all the demos I've seen repeat "Taking Care" on the B-side, and these actually seem easier to find than the stock single !
The second 'MK II' album saw the band split from Charisma and their manager Tony Stratton-Smith. Warner Brothers soon picked them up, and released "Happy Daze" in October 1974. But none of Hull's new songs had the punch of his previous work, and it was left to Tommy Duffy to provide the best track (and later single) "Tonight". During the next few months, the group slowed to a halt, and then disbanded without much fuss.
From November 1974 to December 1976, the original Lindisfarne members each went their own way. Alan Hull produced a second solo album, "Squire", for Warners, and starred in a BBC-2 play of the same name, written by Tom Pickard for the series Second City Firsts'. Hull then signed a solo deal with Rocket, forming a band called Radiator with Kenny Craddock and Ray Laidlaw. The Radiator LP was later reworked and reissued as a third Hull solo album, "Phantoms". In 1976, Ray Jackson signed a solo contract with EMI, but the label only released one single, "Take Some Time", a breach of contract which led to a court case that Jackson subsequently won. Cowe and Clements took on session work with the likes of Bert Jansch, Michael Chapman and Ralph McTell (Clements played bass on "Streets Of London"), while Cowe also toured and recorded with the 7:84 Theatre Group.
Then in later 1976, Newcastle's Metro Radio approached the original Lindisfarne members to reform for a local festival. At first they refused, but in December 1976, Alan, Rod, Ray, Si and Jacka got back together for two sell-out concerts at Newcastle City Hall and, following their huges success, went back again for two more the following Christmas.
Despite denials of a permanent reunion, Lindisfarne finally announced they were back together for good in May 1978, issuing a new single and album on Mercury and setting off on a 31-date tour. The LP, "Back And Fourth", was produced by Gus Dudgeon, and proved to be a fine comeback, featuring "Warm Feeling", "Marshall Riley's Army", and their first chart single in years, "Run For Home", which was also their one-and-only hit in the States. Dudgeon's slick production received criticism from some quarters, but the album certainly put Lindisfarne firmly back in the public eye.
Their relationship with Mercury lasted for two more albums, the live double "Magic In The Air", and "The News". There were also further singles, of which only "Juke Box Gypsy" made any impact on the charts. Lindisfarne continued to tour regularly, and their Christmas concerts became a major annual event, creating a party atmosphere without equal.
The budget label Pickwick cashed in with a compilation album, "Lady Eleanor", comprising a mixture of tracks from "Lindsfarne Live" and "Roll On Ruby", and featuring a picture of the Mark II line-up on the cover. Although it was bargain-bin fodder at the time, this album has now ironically become one of their hardest to find. Charisma had already assembled with the far superior "Finest Hour", including selections from the first three albums. Later, they came up with "Repeat Performance", a collection of singles and non-album B-sides such as "Knackers Yard Blues" and the instrumental "Scotch Mist". This album was quickly deleted and is now hard to find, though it's well worth the effort.
Throughout the 80s, Lindisfarne survived without a major label deal. Consequently, their vinyl releases from that period appeared on a maze of independant labels, and were often very low-key projects. "Friday Girl" came out on Subterranean Records in 1980, while "I Must Stop Going To Parties" appeared through the aptly-named Hangover label the following year. In 1982, the group formed Lindisfarne Musical Productions to handle every aspect of their touring, promotion and recording, and four singles came out on their own LMP label.
Since 1982, a melting pot of Geordie musicians have convened under the name Pacamax for the occasional 'fun' gig, playing old R&B standards and generally having a good time. This line-up usually features a mix of Lindisfarne and Jack The Lad members, plus whoever else is available.
After a three-year break, a new Lindisfarne album was announced, originally with the title "Party Politics", though it eventually emerged as "Sleepless Nights". It caused a minor stir because of the picture of a naked girl on the back cover but, more importantly, it signalled an artistic return to form with corking tracks like Hull's "Stormy Weather", Clements "Sunderland Boys", and "Winning The Game", a Jackson/Harcourt composition.
A curious coupling of "Clear White Light" and Clifford T. Ward's "The Traveller" appeared on Charisma around this time, but may only have been a semi-official release. More notably, a brace of live albums, "Lindisfarntastic I & II", were pressed up to sell at their Christmas gigs, and a now-collectable four-track Christmas EP was issued in 1985.