The Battle Of Percy Street

Although the main theme of Ready Steady Gone is the northeast music scene from the mid sixties to the early seventies, I sometime come across a losely related subject that I can’t resist writing about. This one dates back to 1963 but does include some well known Tyneside characters and one, in particular that all ex-Club A’Gogo regulars will know.

I remember watching Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs Of New York” movie many years ago and being quite shocked by the violent street battle that took place near the beginning of the film. The battle was between two rival New York gangs and was based on a real-life incident that took place in July 1857 – “The Dead Rabbit Riots”.

Daniel Day Lewis and his gang about to launch into battle in ‘The Gangs Of New York’

The gang members in the film were armed with lots of lethal weapons – swords, knives, axes, clubs, scythes, spears and maces. During the three-minute sequence, skulls were cracked, limbs chopped off, flesh hacked away and inevitably many men were killed and badly injured. If you want to be reminded of the violence in the “Gangs Of New York” street battle, here’s a two-minute clip from the movie.

After watching “Gangs Of New York” I couldn’t help but wonder if street fights involving such extreme violence, seemingly unchallenged by the law, actually happened on the streets of New York or any other city for that matter. Then a few weeks ago whilst doing some research for this web site, I found out that there was indeed such an incident in Newcastle upon Tyne just over half a century ago.

The bloody “Battle Of Percy Street” took place on the night of 26th April 1963. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle brought the matter to the attention of the Tyneside public the following day when this headline appeared.

Newcastle Evening Chronicle headline on 27/4/63

The newspaper article went on the describe the injuries inflicted on a group of five men who were victims of what was thought to be a planned attack by as many as thirty assailants.

One of the victims, and the one who suffered the most injuries, was none other than Dave Findlay, who later became the well known and much talked about bouncer at the Club A’Gogo. Throughout the ensuing Court proceeding Dave was always referred to as George Findlay or George David Findlay, which is the name on his birth certificate.

The “Battle Of Percy Street” originated in an incident that took place earlier in the year between Dave Findlay and a well-known Newcastle hard case named John Brian Sayers at the Club A’Gogo. Sayers was alleged to have told Findlay after the fracas at the Gogo that he would fight him in eight weeks time.

After the eight weeks had elapsed Dave Findlay and John Sayers were both at the La Dolce Vita nightclub. According to Dave Findlay, Sayers approached him and said, “The eight weeks are up. Come outside.” A fight took place outside the club with Sayers coming off worse. Sayers told Findlay “That’s the first fight. I’ll see you in the morning when I’m better”. “Please yourself.” replied Findlay.

In 1963 Dave Findlay, who was then aged 25, worked for Club A’Gogo owners Mike Jeffery and Ray Grehan. Jeffery and Grehan also owned the Downbeat Club in Carliol Square. At the time of the feud with Sayers, Dave Findlay was managing the Downbeat for Mike Jeffery and Ray Grehan.

Late in the evening of Friday 26th April 1963, after locking up the Downbeat for the night, David Findlay made his way up to the Club A’Gogo on Percy Street along with a cousin, an uncle, two friends and his Alsatian dog. As the five men approached the Club A’Gogo on Percy Street, Dave Findlay noticed a large group of around thirty men lurking around. He assumed that they had just exited en masse from the nearby pub after closing time. Then he saw John Brian Sayers and his brother Frank amongst the crowd. Suddenly Dave Findlay was hit from behind with a length of pipe. Findlay was then confronted by Frank Sayers who had his hand tucked in his coat. He shouted at Findlay, “I’m going to chop you up!” and pulled out a wood-chopping axe. Sayers hit Findlay once with the axe causing him to fall backwards. Dave Findlay’s Alsatian dog made a lunge at Sayers but it, too, was struck by the axe.

The rest of Sayers’ gang rushed forward including John Sayers and two brothers named Frank and George Shotton followed by the others who all appeared to be armed. The gang got stuck into the four people who were accompanying Dave Findlay laying into them with chains, a litter bin, lengths of piping and a steel bar. Dave Findlay managed to recover sufficiently from the axe blow and escaped the gang by running to a nearby taxi office. His attempts to secure the door were futile. Eight to ten men burst in after him and were on him like a rugby scrum. Frank Shotton, the first assailant through the door, began hitting Dave Findlay in the face with an iron bar. John Brian Sayers joined in hitting Findlay on the head with an axe. Two of the other assailants were hitting him simultaneously with pipes while George Shotton was punching him the face. In the melee, Dave Findlay did manage to strike out at Frank Sayers and break his jaw.

Suddenly someone shouted “Police!” and the gang instantly dispersed the bloody scene, discarding their weapons as they ran.

The manager of the taxi office, who had been present during the attack, later described Dave Findlay’s injuries and said, “I’ve seen some messes, amongst others on a battlefield, but nothing like this.”

After a short while Dave Findlay staggered along to the Club A’Gogo and was let in by one of the club’s floor managers, Bill Keith. His bleeding Alsatian dog had also found its way there.

The aftermath of the bloody “Battle Of Percy Street” was that Dave Findlay was hospitalised for three days and required a blood transfusion and 37 stiches. He had severe gashes on his head and lacerations to his face. The four men that were with Findlay suffered broken ribs and severe head injuries. Among the weapons left at the scene and recovered by police were spanners, chains, hammers, axes and an African spear head that had been sharpened on a grindstone.

Ten of the men who were identified as being part of the gang of attackers appeared at Newcastle Assizes in July 1963. They pleaded not guilty to various charges. Seven men including John and Frank Sayers and the Shotton brothers were convicted and received custodial sentences ranging from three months to eighteen months in prison. An eighth man was given three months in a detention centre.

What happened to the two people who were at the root of the “Battle Of Percy Street”, David Findlay and John Brian Sayers?

Dave Findlay made a full recovery. After his appearances in Court during the trial in July 1963, he was back in Court in October that year. This time not as a victim or witness but as a defendant. He was prosecuted for assaulting a dance hall manager. Allegedly Findlay had tried to gain access to the Neptune Dance Hall in Seahouses without paying and started a fight with the manager. He was fined and bound over for causing a breach of the peace.

By the time of John Brian Sayer’s release from prison in 1964, Dave Findlay was working for Mike Jeffery and Ray Grehan as a bouncer at the Club A’Gogo along with his brother Tommy. He continued to work for Ray Grehan for many years both as a doorman-cum-bouncer and as a decorator at Grehan’s various clubs and properties.

Ray Grehan (left) and Dave Findlay in the early nineties. (Photo from the Newcastle Evening Chronicle)

Some years ago, a musician friend of mine who worked at one of Ray Grehan’s clubs in 1969 and who knew Dave Findlay very well, told me something about the Percy Street incident. Dave Findlay had mentioned to my friend that, after things had died down, he hunted down all the men he knew were involved in the attack – those who hadn’t been sent to prison. One by one he “sorted them out”. My friend said that Findlay’s motive was not because of the attack on himself but for what had happened to his Alsatian dog.

I’ll end my bit about Dave Findlay with a story told to me by another friend, a fellow saxophonist who we’ll call “Bernie”: –

Bernie was playing one night at Ray Grehan’s Crescendo club in Whitley Bay. Dave Findlay was the club’s bouncer. The story goes: –

“The band didn’t start playing until 11-30 to 12ish. We had started the first set when a disturbance broke out just to the right of the table where my wife and the rest of the WAGS were sitting. Dave Findlay had this black guy called Archie up against the wall. The guy was inches taller than Dave. A friend of Archie’s came over to help – well that was his intention. Dave didn’t bother looking round he just seemed to whack Archie’s friend with his elbow and down he went. He head-butted Archie three or four times. Archie slid to the floor then all mayhem broke out. Dave ripped an electrical heater off the wall and smashed it over Archie who was lying on the floor. After it was all over Dave came over to the band and said, “Sorry about that lads.” “No problem, Dave”, we meekly replied. My wife never went back to the Crescendo!”

As for John Brian Sayers; after his release from prison in 1964 he went on to become the head of the notorious Newcastle Sayers crime firm. If you haven’t heard of them, try Googling ‘John Brian Sayers’, ‘John Henry Sayers’ or ‘Stephen Sayers’.

John Brian Sayers

Over the decades the Sayers family have been linked to every aspect of organized crime on Tyneside including robbery, tax evasion, embezzlement, money laundering, drug dealing, murder and attempted murder. John Brian Sayers was shot in the face in 1990, allegedly by a rival gang member, but survived the ordeal.

An “untouchables” type police unit was even set up to try and bring down the family. Read about it here.

The Sayers family feature in a fairly recent book entitled ‘La Geordie Cosa Nostra’.

The “Battle Of Percy Street” is now just a distant memory and a lesser known part of the city’s folk-lore. But it’s a stark reminder of what can happen when a seemingly innocuous incident esculates into a full-scale feud.

24 thoughts on “The Battle Of Percy Street

  1. 0
    0

    Hello Roger; what a savage tale!
    I think though, that we can all admit to having witnessed violence from up on the stage: it was inevitable, I suppose, when a room full of fit young fellows got boozed-up, then fired-up by the music. I’m thinking about the local ‘Hops’ held in village halls around rural Northumberland which we all played regularly back in the ‘sixties (nineteen sixties – not eighteen sixties; although I’m sure it would still apply).
    I seem to recall that it was taken in turns to host the Hop each week; so you had a room-full of folk from all the nearby villages getting into an advanced state of refreshment (to quote Steve Daggett) and inevitably, everything from clan feuds to inter-village rivalry coupled with the ever-present duels over women, meant that squabbles would invariably break out.
    All too apparent from up on the stage.
    The first time I saw it I was still only 14 and gigging with a band called The Harlem Shuffle, who had experienced this on many occasions and responded in an instant by getting themselves and their gear out of the gig and into the van and away, because those squabbles would all-too-often escalate rapidly into the entire room turning into one huge battlefield with weapons of every description used to exact horrific injuries.
    Strangely, I don’t recall having seen it down in County Durham (or certainly not often enough to remember) and I have always assumed that ‘colliery camaraderie’ plus the sheer brutal physicality of coal-mining, sapped a lot of the violence out of blokes; I’m very curious to hear what others have to say about it though – as it’s an interesting issue and my primary reason for this reply; so long as no-one mentions the Hadrian’s Wall.
    Secondly, on a more urban note: that wasn’t the first time I witnessed violence from behind my drum-kit as my first-ever, fully-fledged, paid gig with a real band (who were on £5.00) was with the Harlem Shuffle at The Bewicke Arms in High Howden (now Aldi) where they had a weekly residency on a Wednesday night. Half way through the second set, while we were steaming into ‘Papa’s got a brand new bag’, two girls began to fight on the dance-floor. At first I found it rather titillating..! Rolling around in short skirts, tearing at each other’s clothes – not unlike a Carry-On movie, till suddenly the claws came out and blood was spilt and they were taken away in separate ambulances. What an introduction to my life on the road. James Brown could certainly fire up a crowd, even when someone else was performing.

    ______________________________________________

  2. 0
    0

    What an interesting article.
    It is true that there was a level of violence at that time and there were some legendary tough guys who were both hated and respected in equal measure. It was quite a macho environment.
    The Findlay brothers being a shining example of the phenomena.
    I’m sure that the level of gangsterism on the club scene that was driven by gambling. The ‘One Armed Bandit’ murder in 1967 being perhaps the most notorious case.

    ______________________________________________

  3. 0
    0

    Roddy the Moddy was a window dresser at Binns and a regular at the GoGo with his purple suede full length coat. He told some of my friends that girls from Binns and Bainbridges used to meet at the Pineapple which was in a basement on the corner of Nun Street. My friends decided to go. I was going to a 21st dinner at Jim’s Inn in Saville Row, so we arranged to meet later at the Go Go. They didn’t show up so I presumed they had got ‘fixed up’ and gone somewhere else.
    Later I found out that when they got to the bar in the Pineapple, someone switched the electricity off and mayhem broke out with bottles, glasses etc being thrown at a group of lads sitting in the corner. Apparently, some Gateshead barrow boys had a beef with Newcastle barrow boys. My friends were not injured and neither did they manage to pick up any beauties from Binns or Bainbridges.
    On a different subject, I was given a digital radio on Fathers Day and I’ve been listening to Magic’s Soul and Motown which is quite good, I was wondering somehow if they could be persuaded to do a Go Go request show.

    ______________________________________________

  4. 0
    0

    I got an answer to my question about why Northumberland village hops seemed to often end in mayhem and County Durham ones didn’t.

    It had to do with the size/population density of the village, with Northumberland being generally agricultural and sparse, compared with Durham being mining and consequently much more densely populated.

    What this meant was that Co. Durham gigs usually had only that village’s folk attending, which meant that the clan feuds and inter-village rivalry were not as prevalent. I was told by a very famous local retired policeman who, himself, would attend many of the southern Northumberland hops with his fellow cadets from Ponteland while looking for girls. I think I’ve got to believe him; although he did give some credence to my theory of ‘mining camaraderie’ and sheer exhaustion down in Co. Durham. So now we know.

    ______________________________________________

  5. 0
    0

    Great story.
    Dave Findley was “the man.” Slim, good looking, smart as a dart, articulate and charming. However, behind the smile there was real menace. No one messed with Dave Findley.

    ______________________________________________

  6. 0
    0

    What about the fella they called the duke round that time.
    They say he could rock with the best.

    ______________________________________________

  7. 1
    0

    Please John Taberham, my dad’s name and also mine is Findlay. Not Findley.
    But very true the comment you made about my father.
    Anna Findlay

    ______________________________________________

  8. 0
    0

    Anyone remember Dave Berry who was a disc jockey at the GoGo?

    ______________________________________________

  9. 0
    0

    My dad always used to tell us stories about him growing up in North East. The famous artist he met and stayed at his home in Jesmond.

    ______________________________________________

  10. 0
    0

    The BOPS event is another burned into the Geordie psyche like the “one armed bandit murder”, which today might not even make the front page of the “Evening Chronicle”, such have times changed.

    I noted Keith Fishers’ comments on the BOPS and the observation about gigs in rural Northumberland being more prone to violence than those in Co. Durham:

    At the time, I was in a band called “The Victors” (named after the WW2 film of same name). We mainly played Working Men’s Clubs in Northumberland but ventured south on occasion to bandit country in Co Durham.

    One of those bookings was in a pit village , quite high up, I recall & snowy but can’t think of its’ name. It was a wedding do and was held in an antique village hall.

    It all went well until part way through the evening when it became clear that the relations between the bride & grooms’ respective families were not all that harmonious.

    I think someone threw something which then triggered a response which I think I can only describe as being like the last part of “Blazing Saddles” – one minute all is well & next minute, everyone is hitting everyone else. The women were up on chairs round the hall, cheering their menfolk on.

    Our manager, the father of our lead guitar, an excellent & totally honest chap, then said to us, “ok lads, just pack up & leave quietly” – fortunately the stage was very high so we were isolated from the mayhem and there was a fire exit behind the stage. I think we were paid on the door so we did not lose out!

    So we very rapidly packed up our gear (thank god for amps with castors) and got it all into our trusty Bedford Dormobile van. Just as we were pulling away the fighting spilled out into the street but we escaped unscathed before the cops arrived!

    I take the point that Keith made that this was a dispute between families and not between other groupings though cheap Federation Ale could have started punch-ups between any of them!

    Fast forward a few years, I ended my musical career in the house band at the infamous Birdcage Club in Stowell St , Newcastle, where I rubbed shoulders with many, infinitely worse, criminal clientele, which eventually resulted in my leaving music for a more secure lifestyle in academia until I retired in 2011!

    I still play guitar but only for my own pleasure. Nobody wants to hear a 60’s guitarist these days …

    Les

    ______________________________________________

  11. 0
    0

    There was a small community of wrestlers in the Newcastle area of which I was one along with my tag team partner Joe Jason Robson from Gateshead,we travelled with the fairground and put on wrestling shows at working men’s clubs around the northeast.
    Bob Batey was one of our wrestling comrades as well as being a bonafide toon hardman, he hung out at the Tatler with a bunch of his cronies and would frequently show up at the Change Is on a Sat. night.
    One Saterday he called the club and told me to tell Ron Markham that if he didn’t give Ray Grehan the five hundred pounds that he owed him he was coming down to the club to break his jaw.
    I relayed the message to Ron Markham who immediately contacted law enforcement and they sent two plain clothes detectives to the club and as they waited patiently in the foyer in comes Bob Batey who was immediately handcuffed and hustled into a police car and taken away.
    The next person through the door was Ray Grehan. I told Ray what happens and Ray said “Ron doesn’t owe me any money”. The next person through the door was Bob Monkhouse himself with his private secretary, as he watches the police car pull away he says to me “every thing under control?” and I reply “just another Saturday night Bob”

    ______________________________________________

  12. 0
    0

    If you were part of the Crowd, the GoGo and Downbeat were a fun scene. Big Phil, Dickie Bainbridge, all of the Animals were a riot, and who can forget the insider parties at Lovaine Place, home of the inimitable Hogg sisters.
    Plus Spenser Davis!Anyone remember Mary Klegg, female DJ.at the GoGo?

    ______________________________________________________________

  13. 0
    0

    Les Oswald
    I’m sure I played Bass in the house band at the Birdcage with you back in the day you were a lot younger than the rest of the band George Harrison (not him) played keyboards I think they were the days when they had the casino upstairs and sometimes had exotic dancers (Strippers) as well some top acts
    Let me know if my fading memory is right
    In any event keep safe and well.

    ______________________________________________

  14. 0
    0

    I was unable to reply earlier, Bill, owing to a technical issue now resolved by Roger.
    Your memory does not fail you, you were on Bass at the Birdcage. The band was originally the “George Harrison Combo”, George being the manager of the musical instrument part of Jeavons on Percy Street, on the upper floor. He later went on to found his own musical instrument business, in Whickham I think.
    The band ended up as a six-piece with Organ, bass, drums, guitar, sax and a stunning blonde singer (Linda?), who was always chaperoned by her boy-friend. The weekends-only sax player called Dave Hattams, went on to greater things, becoming Musical Director for P&O cruises.
    We arrived at the Birdcage not long after the trial for the “One Armed Bandit Murder”. I recall it was a tense place to be working in. Some of the acts were as you say top notch. The one who always sticks in my mind was the late Sir Jimmy Young, who was such a nice & genuine person compared to some of the others we backed.
    The “exotic” dancers and a memorable fire dancer were a bit of an education though in fact, I am only four years younger than you!

    ______________________________________________

  15. 1
    0

    I remember the days well. I worked as a disc jockey in the young set of the Club A’Gogo and Dickie Bainbridge died in a car accident with me on the Great North Road just outside of Gosforth. I remember Tommy Crumb who was also a bouncer at the club and Keith Crombie.

    ______________________________________________

  16. 0
    0

    Mike, don’t know if you remember, but we were fellow djs at the GoGo. You and I were among those responsible for feeding Mary Klegg e-lax as chocolate one night. She looked bad the next night ~ a nice looking girl, just a bit full of herself (Sandi’s Shaw syndrome?)

    ______________________________________________

  17. 0
    0

    Remember you well, Mike! Great times at the GoGo and Downbeat.

    ______________________________________________

  18. 0
    0

    Any idea where Tommy is now?

    ______________________________________________

  19. 0
    0

    Could any one share any stories about me dad, Dave FIndlay? Would love to hear them.
    Kind regards Michelle

    ______________________________________________

  20. 0
    0

    Hi Michelle I knew your dad very well he lived in two houses that i remember one at the top of westgate road and the other in jesmond queens road i think last house at bottom of street on left hand side. Me and a mate were couple of duckers and divers and got on really well with Dave we used to meet him in the eldon and places like that. He was in a relationship with a very pretty girl whom was a lot younger than him that maybe your mam cant quite remember her name. xx

    ______________________________________________

  21. 0
    0

    Hi There Mike Henderson. I knew all the same people from our wild days. It would be good to get in touch. I still chat to Bob Dimmack.

    ______________________________________________

  22. 0
    0

    Further to comments about the Birdcage (later the Stage Door) I played Bass with the George Harrison Combo and I’m sure that Les played guitar they had some real stars of the time including Jimmy Young
    Prior to that I was bass player in the house band at King Street Club in North Shields Bob Best was the drummer Charlie Carmichael on Sax Ian McCallum played guitar Cambell McPhee on Piano Nicky Barras also played guitar for a while it was one of the best CIU clubs in the area – happy days
    I also played bass in the house band at the Viking in Seahouses I remember Playing there when Mungo Jerry were just about to hit the big time Denny Wright was the drummer and Chic Cole played piano happy days.

    ______________________________________________

Leave a Reply