Lindisfarne... are five musicians emerging from the Tyne fog to become really BIG.
Currently Lindisfarne are one of the country’s most interesting groups, and if you ask them the secret of that success they will point to their producer Bob Johnston.
Be that as it may, I personally feel there’s a lot more to Lindisfarne than brilliant direction. Bob’s good fortune is that he is handling some of the best material in music today. Since the success of their first album, Nicely Out Of Tune, the group have risen from being a struggling dance-hall band to about the best musical attraction on the scene.
I recently called on them at their house in Edgware, North London. The time was 1 pm and all were rather bleary eyed, having only just emerged from bed. With a “You’ll have to take us as you find us” they showed me into their living room.
“Our rapid success has made life a bit hectic,” said pianist/guitarist Alan Hull. “It’s strange to think that only 18 months ago we were working ourselves to death and seemingly getting nowhere.”
Lindisfarne began 10 years ago with Ray Laidlaw, whose grandfather gave him a drum kit for his 13th birthday. Guitarist Simon Cowe lived down the road and the two formed a group called the Aristokats. It lasted about two years. Rod Clements (bass guitar, violin) was a schoolmate of Simon’s, and later Ray Jackson (mandolin, harmonica, vocals) when he was at art college. All this time they had been aware of a guitarist in Newcastle called Jimmy Alan Hull, who used to play in pop groups, so they contacted him and he agreed to join the group.
“Our first date altogether was in this village called Ashington one Saturday night late in 1969,” said Ray Laidlaw. “Our lead guitarist had just left, and Alan was new. We were completely ignored by the audience who were only there to get drunk and meet birds. This put Alan off, and we didn’t get together again on stage for two months.”
Like everyone Lindisfarne had a tough time at the beginning, in the days they were known as Brethren. They would go away fro four days, and make about £40, but after food and travelling expenses were left with about 10s each. That didn’t even include hotel costs. From the stage Si would make a little speech, asking if there was anyone who had a spare floor they could sleep on. “If you want to get anywhere in Newcastle as a professional group you have to do the social clubs and bingo halls,” Ray Jackson said. “These dudes are the hardest in the world to keep happy, but if you can keep them quiet you’re getting somewhere.”
Soon they began to feel bored by the sameness of guitar-starred groups. And that’s probably the reason why they have no one lead instrument. Instead they have 10. Odd instruments take the lead for a short while, but never the same one twice. They have three main singers instead of one.
“As far as our music goes, the five of us must have been influenced by just about every musical form there is, said Ray Laidlaw. “Everything, as long as it’s good and it’s still around. But our main influences have been the Beatles, Frank Zappa and Hank Marvin. “Yes, Hank Marvin. That guy must have influenced more guitarists in his day than Clapton and Hendrix did put together, because he was the only one. “Coming from Newcastle, he was a local hero before the Beatles made it. A lot of people in Newcastle would go to 142 Stanhope Street just to look at his front door.”
The group may have broad tastes but when they set up on stage together it becomes something entirely different. It becomes Lindisfarne. Their new album Fog On The Tyne is where they are now. They were very pleased at the way Bob Johnston produced it and amazed at the way Ken Scott engineered it. Ken has worked with some of the finest people on record. He helped make albums like the Beatles’ Sargeant Pepper, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Procol Harum’s Salty Dog.
There was talk of Lindisfarne going to the States to record the album, but they weren’t sure. They had never met Bob, and had only heard third hand that he was going to produce them. “When you go into the studio you can feel perfectly confident that Bob knows what he’s doing,” Alan Hull said. “He will never make a mistake, and has a wonderful knack of making your decisions for you. He lets you think you have to decide between two things, when he knows all the time what you are going to choose. Most important of all, he knows exactly how you want to do your song.”
Furthermore, Bob Johnston wasn’t their producer just for the one album; he is to work with them permanently. They may be going to America next year, but are not sure whether they really want to. What they plan to do, contrary to what everyone else does, is to see it once, and if they don’t like it, never return.
Both their singles have been covered; Clear White Light by Wishful Thinking and Lady Eleanor by Lemon. To them it’s flattery. They won’t be releasing a single from the new album because, judging from advance sales , the album will do quite well enough by itself.
Lindisfarne have positive views on the future of the single record. Said Ray Laidlaw: “Five years ago, before albums sold so many, people really used their imagination to make a good record. But apart from consistently good groups like the Move, most of the material we hear now is pure rubbish. “Half the records played on the radio aren’t even worth the plastic they are printed on. They must be fools not to realise that by lowering the standards they are cutting their own throats.”
“We all agreed that the present state of pop music on the radio and television is pathetic. Radio 1 for instance is almost at any hour of the day a sample of what the mass of listeners do NOT want – to judge from the music paper popularity polls. Laidlaw thinks there has never been a TV programme to rival Ready Steady Go. “Surely there must be an enormous market for a programme based on the Ready Steady Go principle. A cross between that and John Peel’s In Concert programme, except on television. “I honestly think that people are so fed up with the whole scene in general,” Alan Hull observed. “If you could get a group together playing nothing but Beatle songs, they would fill concert halls every night. People are crying out.”
They might be crying out, but I think that Lindisfarne could well be the group to provide the consistent excitement which the public has been waiting for since the demise of the Merseybeat era.
from NME, Oct 30th, 1971
With thanks to Michael Clayton