It's Tyne Time
by Roy Hollingworth (1949-2002: Guardian obituary)
from Melody Maker Dec 18, 1971 - discovered by Michael Clayton
"No, we'll never work as hard as this again. It's killing the magic. And it's not doing us much good either"
It's very quiet where we are. Sat, tucked in the toenails of England, supping stout. Even the sea that wets Penzance makes no noise. You wouldn't believe you could gig in Penzance. Or Derby, or Durham, or York, or Barnstaple, or Luton, or Exeter even. Not night following night anyhow. Lindisfarne have played England inside out, and they've played themselves inside out as well. There's a large lounge with tapestry chairs and settees in the Queen's Hotel, Penzance. And old people, and Lindisfarne sat nursing the wounds of open road warfare. Ray Jackson has no appetite left, except for ale. He was so sick the other night, you wouldn't believe the scenes he went through.
Si Cowe pulls up his sweater, and shows a body being eaten by a hungry of shingles. "It's a nervous complaint, we've all had something." But it's not grumbles that are filling the air. There's grumbling and grumbling, and there's good things to talk about too. A year's solid work for Lindisfarne has not been in vain. The band have worked their way into people's heads. Now they play to audiences who just can't stay on their behinds. They get up, they go mad.
No, they aren't a heavy band, but they can be the heaviest. They're not a folk band, but they can be the folkiest. They're not a rock band but they play the best rock and roll. Lindisfarne are Lindisfarne. When you hear a Lindisfarne song, you feel as though you've been hearing it all your life. You feel as though you've been singing it from the day you were born. You feel as though you know the tune, and know the words because they've been inside you always. But you haven't heard that tune before. Odd?
Alan Hull is lounging in a lounge chair. He makes a face and then with driver Crackie, he makes for dinner. Crackie has had to come in for someone who couldn't stick the pace. "Yes, we've worn a roadie out." - Jackson.
Three things have brought Lindisfarne out of the unknown flock this year. They are the Reading Festival, The Weeley Festival, and Bob Johnston. It was Johnston's wish to record them that finally brought the nods of approval, and the questions. Who are Lindisfarne?
Well, they are a bunch of Geordies called Hull, Jackson, Cowe, Ray Laidlaw (sic), and Rod Clements (b.a.). Their musical background comes from folk clubs, working men's clubs, sleazy clubs, football clubs, noisy pubs and basic loves. It comes from getting drunk and getting duffed, and having laughs. It comes from digesting life, and spitting it out in song. It's no product of meditation in soft meadows. It's tin baths and stout, and having the talent to put that into music. It's putting two fingers up to bad times.
"I can't see nay point," says Laidlaw, "of making a musician out to be something better, something above, something that has to be described as weird. When you pull it all down, all we are, are entertainers. We're nothing more. People have tended to take musicians too seriously. Their talents have been raised out of all proportions. You don't go out there and play to yourselves., you go to play to people to make them feel better. And that can make you feel better as well. "
But how much do you play to them, how often? "It's tragic," says Si, "that we've only written four new songs since August. We had no time, we've been gigging nearly every night."
Laidlaw: "We knew in October that the following months would be spent doing ridiculous gigs. But we knew we had to do it. We had to do it to get good, to get tight. Well, we've done it, it's taken its toll, but it's succeeded."
"The band has become tight," says Jackson. "It's always been one terrible shambles on stage, tuning up every minute and that. But now we've got into the part. We're so tight we could go after a residency. But imagine having a hairy night and having to travel 200 miles the next day, and having to be capable of spewing out of a truck window at 70 mph."
They've been playing Exeter the night before. It had worked. Oh, and there'd been Barnstaple before that, and then there was Newcastle, and then to Luton. "I wouldn't like the audiences to get any more wild than they are at the moment," says Hull, who's returned from feeding. "Christ, I come on and sing 'Lady Eleanor', which is sad and they're up there cheering already. It's mad. But I know it's good, I know that people love to do that, people like to get like that."
Bob Johnston took Lindisfarne, and with that magic that he has, he put them on album, 'Fog On The Tyne'. He was tough with them, because they were loose as baggy trousers in the studio. He adored them. When he heard Alan lay down 'City Song' he jumped up and down on his seat in the control room shouting that it was the best thing he'd ever heard. Remember who he's been working with and take into consideration that he's not prone to lose his screws all that often.
Now there's a new year coming up. There's a little lay off planned. But then more gigs, but not so hard. It's got to be cooled. Oh, and there's a strange one for Lindisfarne. There's America to face. It's known that The Band want Lindisfarne to play with them. And there's got to be rest, and there's got to be time to sit down and write some more songs. But there hasn't got to be too much of a lapse. "I couldn't do without not working hard," says Jackson. But it has been too hard. But they've done it. "I'll have a Mackeson," says Jackson.
Impressions of Jackson
"You've got to have a few before you go on." Ray Jackson, mandolin, and mouth harp, and jokes. Ray Jackson can do impressions of anything. He can even impersonate The Queen doing things that you're not supposed to impersonate her doing. But people laugh. He can also impersonate motor-cycles, ships, aeroplanes, dogs, oh, lots of dogs. Dirtydogs, puppy dogs, and nasty dogs.
But Jacka is a humble lad. He's stout with whiskers and a moustache. He looks like a steam engineer from times ago, or maybe even a stoker. "Broon. Broon Ale, Newcastle Broon Ale."
Aye, Broon Ale.
A pint and a bloody song.
You can get the blues on Broon Ale, and Jacka can get the blues. "Jacka's Blues," sturdy, and well said. Became a star this year he did. A star? Well he got on TV with a rock band called The Faces. You can't be much more of a star than that.
Mandolin for 'Mandolin Wind', mandolin for 'Maggie May', and Rod Stewart gave him this beautiful mandolin for him to play. He does play good mandolin does Jacka, and he plays a gutsy harp as well. Oh, and he sings, but not all that well. But that doesn't matter, it fits, it fits the part.
Alan Hull's greatest ambition was to write a song for Jacka. He's one of those people you want to write a song for. He's that type of character who always appears to be happy making people at home, no matter how he feels. A warm person as you like. The Faces arrived at Top Of The Pops in a flotilla of sports cars. Jacka arrived in his old red van.
"When you've done your grounding in folk clubs, then you know you've been through a bit of training. Then there were the social clubs. If they didn't like you, then they'd soon let you bloody know. It's worth having a few before you go out there, a few ales. It cuts down the nerves, and you know what you're doing. You also feel a bit good."
So Jacka's sat there, in this posh hotel, having a few ales. Groups get to stay in posh hotels every now and then. It's about all you ever see of the town. Just the inside of a hotel, and then the gig. By the time you get to a gig, there's either no time to relax, or a few hours. But those few hours are never enough to sit down and do something constructive. So you sit down and spend your time waiting. And thinking of the things you could be doing.
"Sometimes," says Jacka, "there's a great temptation to get almighty drunk before a gig. I mean, here we are now. There's three hours to the gig, and there's the bar. I don't think . . . we've ever got quite that bad before a gig, although there have been some times when . . ."
Yes, there was the time when Alan turned up fairly late for a gig. The other four had already started playing. Alan was fairly boozed, ran onto the stage, took one look at the audience and tried to flee. The other chaps had to keep him on the stage. "There we were playing very nicely and this idiot comes and _____ it all up," says Jacka, joking of course. It's got to end. The lounge cannot be occupied anymore, it's getting too boring, and there's another two hours to the gig. It's said as almost one voice, but working at regular intervals. "Let's go try and see if we can find a pub." Hull is already carrying a bottle of rose vino.
There's an eight track in the van outside. It's that which keeps them sane (or maybe insane) on a 12 hour drive. Jacka slips The Move on, it shouts out tremendously live, and loud. "The Move are tremendous, this is rock 'n' roll," shouts Hull, and Crackie guns the van, and guns us to the worst pub in town.
A heavy barman who doesn't like Hull, and threatens to have his guts for (you wouldn't believe it). Long haired scoundrels. "It's a shame you have to go through this," says Jacka, who was set upon by some thugs the night before. Life on the road. But Jacka keeps his calm, smiles, and there's a laugh all round. And he's a star you know.
We Can Swing Together
THE Winter Gardens, Penzance: Friday night. Despite the mild weather all the heaters are burning full blast inside. It's a low ceiling building, dark, but with a cloak of homeliness. There's a folk singer on at the moment. The band creep to the dressing room, which is also full of heat, and a smell of burning nuts. There's a meeting with the roadies. Hull places his instruments down, and takes a swig of the wine that's somehow still in his hand. He offers it round.
The strange thing about Lindisfarne is that you'd never think they were going to gig. None of them cause hassle, none of them look particularly bothered about anything. Laidlaw just sits and muses at the bar. Hull and Cowe sit mildly tuning up in the dressing room, then with only minutes to go, they are all tuning. There's a violin, and a harmonica, and guitars fusing into a jig.
And well, that's close enough.
They take the stage. They are full of laughter already, Jackson's said something funny as he gets the right harp out. Then they tumble into a tune, and now they've got to get going. Cowe always sits on stage. He almost hides himself in the right hand corner. Head bent over instrument. He shifts the most technical stuff in the band's music. He has to be a very busy player, from funky electric, to jingling that will complement Hull's romantic songs.
Now Hull wears a Fender fairly low, and swings about quite a bit. His voice isn't particularly good at the moment. The band are sounding a little rough, a little flat, but it's just the intro. 'Bout ten minutes seems to pass with little incident, but the audience are warming up. Jacka stamps his feet, and blows the harp, oh, and the band swings and swirls, and Clements has a fiddle and a saw, and even Cowe is twisting in his seat. There's so much good humour about now that it cannot fail. Suddenly there's no barrier with the audience. Now they can talk at will between numbers, and there's laughing. And then a few impersonations from Jacka, who becomes an immediate favourite. Hull keeps quiet, still on his wine.
"Fog On The Tyne." This is one of those numbers, this is one of those tunes that you feel you've always known. Everyone in the place feels it. This song will be sung for years. There's such a fine blend of sound being wrought. It's loose, yes, it's tired at times, but the enthusiasm is such that it becomes all you need at that moment.
Now "We Can Swing Together" is becoming almost a hymn. A song that followed a drugs raid in Newcastle. Just everyone claps, and swings, and the whole place swings. The audience have taken the bait. It becomes one person. And the set plays on, and the band become even better. You get the feeling that if we were at war, Lindisfarne would be writing things like "White Cliffs Of Dover," or "It's A Long Way To Tipperary." They are putting out songs for people, songs everyone can sing. You don't watch the play, you're in there. This is a bread and butter gig. There is no glamour, except the glamour of playing for people.
"Bread and butter, with currents," said Alan. The gigs that bands should be seen at. "We can swing together, we can have a wee wee, we can have a wet on the wall." It's there. A long singalong set. But there were the more tender things like "Lady Eleanor," full songs, beautiful songs. So what's next?
Well the audience stand and beg for more. Jacka wipes his lips, and the band rolls into "Jacka's Blues," firm and pumpy with Jacka shouting Geordie lines, and putting light into his eyes. And then encores. This is what entertainment is all about. That's what you feel.
The Hull Truth
"SOUTHERNERS can't build ships, can't make fish and chips, and can't write songs"
About an hour has passed since the end of the gig. We are back in the hotel lounge, the whole squad, including roadies. Everyone is in bed except a night porter, an old guy, who is found to come from Newcastle. There are two tables full of sandwiches, and a whole crate of Newcastle Brown Ale. Since the tie-up with the firm of brewers for publicity, the band have been washed out with Newcastle Brown. It's late and time for the heavier type of conversation. They've got to be up at eight in the morning, for a 12 hour drive.
Hull and Clements sit together. Now Clements is certainly the most quiet member. He always appears to have a huge mouthful of teeth, hair that appears to be stuck on, in strange places. Alive eyes. Clements is the other writer. He doesn't use as much alliteration as Alan, but has a similar style, a Lindisfarne style. Again, he is openly friendly. "We've been worn out, and our writing has been affected."
"We've got to do a brilliant album. The third album has got to be brilliant," says Alan, quickly. "Rod and myself have been pleased with what's been written. The roots to the songs have been good. But there have to be more. We'll love them, I know."
Most of the songs from Hull were written about three years ago - in the space of a week. It was one of those weeks. He just sat down and wrote himself to death. Since then he hasn't penned all that much. So most of what Lindisfarne are playing is extremely old. But Hull is on the brink of a new writing phase. So is Clements. It's a writing phase that needs to come. And it needs to be exceptional.
"The difference between London and the north is not purely geographical. They are totally different, the people are different. Southerners cannot write songs. Think of most of our writers, and figure out where they are from. There's only one southerner I know who can write, and that's Keith Richards. The rest, well…," says Hull.
Clements chips in: "London can spawn good players mind. They can put out good musicians, but they never write. It's as though some basic feeling weren't with them anymore. Southern people spend too much time being proper groups. They spend too much time being IT, being the good boys, being the boys who matter. There's too much of that sort of crap around."
"When we have a bad gig," says Hull, "we just want to crawl out of that place. We want to hide. But, boy, when it's a good gig, and most are these days, then it's the most incredible feeling on earth. You look at those people, and well, you could maybe cry with joy, you wouldn't believe it. As long as we have something to communicate, and somebody to communicate with, then we'll give as much as we can. And more. This year has made us strong."
Hull talks of northern habits, northern humour, northern basics. "They make for songs. Things aren't clouded up there. Things aren't hidden by anything, except smoke."
"Things in London are somehow unreal. And people make it like that," adds Hull. "There are too many people," says Rod, "doing second rate things. There are too many second rate bands. They are getting away with it somehow. An audience thinks it's enjoying itself, but give them a dose of something really good and they'll know the difference."
Hull swigs ale, and then creases his face. "I need to write my songs. If I couldn't I'd be in a mental hospital. Which is where I worked for quite a while. But I'd never be content with writing second rate stuff. I've got to write as well as Dylan, and the Beatles, I don't want anything else."
The night porter sneaks in again, and forces a bottle of Brown down him. And night is suddenly morning. And that's Lindisfarne.
- Ray Laidlaw Premier Drumkit, 1 x 20 Paiste ride cymbal, 1 x 16 Paist crash cymbal, 2 x 8 Zildjan splash cymbal, 2 x 14 Super Zins cymbal.
- Alan Hull Yamaha 6 string acoustic with De Armond pick up, Fender Esquire, Hohner electric piano, through Fender Bassman top with a Fender D120 cabinet.
- Ray Jackson Electric Harmony mandolin, through Fender pro reverb 40 watt amp, Echo super vamp harmonicas.
- Si Cowe Gibson stereo, Gibson Cromwellian, electric Colubus mandolin, through Fender 80 watt twin reverb.
- Rod Clements Fender Precision with the frets taken out, Lark violin with two De Armond pick ups, through 240 watt Ampeg with two 4 x 12 cabinets.
- P.A. Burman built by Greg Burman of Newcastle (custom), 200 watts 2 x 100 watt Slave amps, 1 4 channel (Channal in Geordie) mixer, doubling up with separate volume controls giving 8 channels, 4 x 4 x 12 speaker cabinets, 2 x 2 x 12 speaker cabinets, 2 Vitavox horn cabinets, 5 unisphere Shure mikes vocals, 1 Eagle condenser mike acoustic guitar.