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
Finally, four years after "Sleepless Nights", a new studio album called "Dance Your Life Away" appeared in 1986 on River City Records. Produced by Steve Daggett, who also turned up as auxiliary keyboard player on many of the band's live dates, the album was memorable for "Heroes" and "100 Miles To Liverpool". "Heroes" became the title of a Miner's Benefit Concert, held at the Albert Hall in 1986, at which Lindisfarne were the headline act.
In 1987, the band released the double "C'Mon Everybody" album, featuring three sides of '50s rock'n'roll covers ("Running Bear", "Party Doll", "Mr. Bassman", etc.), and a last side made up of reworkings of classic Lindisfarne songs. Stylus gave it a full 'TV advertised - buy in time for Christmas' treatment, but at least the gigs were fun. Another unusal item from this time was the "Save Our Ales" single, released to help oppose the attempt take-over of the Scottish and Newcastle Breweries in 1988 - evidently a matter close to the band's heart !
In January 1988, Rod Clements joined forces again with folk guitar-hero Bert Jansch to release an acoustic blues album, "Leather Launderette". The pair played some solo dates together and Rod briefly sat in with the Bert Jansch band, a forerunner of the current Pentangle line-up. Despite playing bass with Lindisfarne, Clements is a fine guitarist with a particular feel for the bottle-neck blues. When the Geordie folksters reconvened, he continued playing lead guitar, with local sessioneer, Steve Cunningham, taking over on bass.
In 1989, we were finally treated to the release of some archive material in the form of the "Peel Sessions" EP on Strange Fruit, which included early live performance of "Mandolin King" and "Poor Old Ireland", recorded for the Beeb in May 1972. The late 80s also saw three classic Lindisfarne albums reissued on CD by Virgin, the new owners of the Charisma back catalogue.
To coincide with their 1989 20th Anniversary tour, the band brought out a new studio album, "Amigos", on the Northumberland-based Black Crow label. Arguably their best since "Back & Fourth", it featured further songs by Rod Clements and, for the first time, Marty Craggs, a fine tenor sax player and vocalist, who has toured with the band since 1984 and been a full-time member since '86. The anthemic "Roll On That Day" was also included on a three-track CD-only single, along with "Do It Like This" and an eccentric re-vamp of the "Parties" single. Craggs had played with Ray Jackson and Charlie Harcourt in Harcourts' Heroes during the mid-70s and Alan Hull once said that if Marty had been around in 1969, he would have been a Lindisfarne member from day one.
1990 turned out to be an eventful year for the band. It began on a high in the aftermath of the "Amigos" album, which was issued at the end of 1989 and consisted of solid new material, marking the group's return to their distinctive roots. For their next trick, the group teamed up with maverick fottballer Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne for an out-and-out dance version of their old favourite, "Fog On The Tyne". The single proceeded to climb the charts as a serious contender for the Christmas No. 1, and only fell short of the top slot. It was the first Lindisfarne single to be released in five formats - 7", 12", CD, cassette and picture disc. And yes, you've guessed it, the picture disc doesn't show the band, but Gazza's smiling face ! Whatever the ethics behind it, the single helped put Lindisfarne back in the public eye - it was fun, after all, and to a large extent that's what the band have been all about. A few radio stations even made the effort to dust down the original version as well.
By 1991, Ray Jackson had left to concentrate on other areas of his career. Ray Laidlaw told me, "It was impossible to replace a character like Jacka, so we didn't try". Instead, they set about compiling two volumes of rare tracks, radio edits and live cuts, which were released as "Buried Treasures" in the Virgin Universal series. Both volumes are essential purchases for the Lindisfarne collector - as well as the rare tracks, the band can also be heard discussing the background to some of the material between tracks. Phonogram also got it on the act, adding "Back And Fourth" to their other CD reissues. Live, the band experimented by bringing in musician/actor Brendan Healy and recruiting two female backing singers, temporarily turning the band into an unwieldy nine-piece.
The next long-awaited stuio-album, "Elvis Lives On The Moon", turned up in 1993, and captured the band in amore melancholy mood than on the 1989's "Amigos". Lindisfarne had visited Russia to appear at a benefit concert, an experience which was a real eye-opener for Alan Hull, and provided him with a rich source of material. Surprinsingly, the obligatory single which was culled from the album was a revamped version of "Day Of The Jackal", a track which originally surfaced as the B-Side of "Nights" back in 1985. "Elvis" also saw the band reunited with Kenny Craddock, who produced the album. He later added his multi-instrumental talents to the Christmas tour, temporarily replacing Simon Cowe, who was in Canada helping his father-in-law set up a brewery !!
Throughout 1993, the band were gigging as hard as ever, playing at the Glastonbury Festival and the three major Fleadhs at Waterford, Edinburgh and Finsbury Park - an echo of the early 70s, when Lindisfarne first made their name at colleges and festivals up and down the country. In November, they set off for another nationwide Christmas tour, with special guests the Strawbs.
For their 25th anniversary in 1994, the band had a few surprises in store for us, headlining the Friday night at Fairport's Cropredy festival in August and issuing a greatest hits package, "On Tap", and a new single, "We Can Make It" - Alan Hull's plea to the government to halt the decline of British industry. Inspired by the closures at the Swan Hunter shipyards, it was a typically passionate piece of social comment in the same tradition as "All Fall Down" and "Marshall Riley's Army". To promote it, the band set out on a major autumn tour.
During 1995, the group hit another landmark - 25 years since their first appearance in Newcastle's hallowed City Hall. With his customary foresight, Ray Laidlaw managed to book the venue for the actual anniversary, 2nd July. The concert featured old friends like Rab Noakes, Mike Elliott and Billy Mitchell, plus fellow Geordies Tim Healy and Kevin Whatley from TV's 'Auf Wiedersehn, Pet'. The evening was recorded for a TV special, and subsequently released as a mail-order double-pack featuring a CD and a video, called "Another Fine Mess".
Lindisfarne then played a short tour in October, and then took a breather before the gigs planned for December. But their plans were scuppered when Alan Hull suddenly fell victim to a heart attack. Ironically, he died at a time when he was not only celebrating his band's anniversary, but also renewing his solo career. He'd recently issued a terrific live album, "Back To Basics", and was in the final stages making a new studio record. He was even rumoured to have been thinking about a small tour of America, never his favourite place since the band's disastrous tour in 1973.
Without him, the group's future is uncertain, though Ray Laidlaw has hinted that Lindisfarne will carry on. In a statement to the local Newcastle papers, he said: "Alan would have wanted people to celebrate through his music. He will be sadly missed, but he would definitely have wanted us to keep on playing."