Back in the sixties the best ways of keeping abreast of what was happening in the world of popular music was either through radio or by reading weekly or monthly music papers. Sometimes these musical journals would feature articles about the music scene in the north east of England and artistes from that area. In the mid sixties the phrase “Geordie Beat” was coined to describe the musical output from up-and-coming northeast bands.
In my early teens when I was just starting to play the saxophone, the Melody Maker was my favourite music paper. It was an invaluable source of information. Not only did it cover information about jazz, blues, soul, folk and popular music, it featured technical articles by experts aimed at musicians. There were also lots of adverts for musical equipment manufacturers, music shops and firms selling sheet music.
I wasn’t alone in using the Melody Maker to help me progress as a musician. I read in one Bryan Ferry biography that as a youngster Bryan had a paper round in the area where he lived. One of the papers that he delivered was the Melody Maker. On his round he would read that paper from cover to cover. This gave him an early start in appreciating all kinds of music; something that would benefit him in his later career as a vocalist and song writer.
A little later in the sixties another publication started appearing on newsagent’s shelves. This one was called Beat Instrumental. Like the Melody Maker, Beat Instrumental was aimed at both music fans and musicians. Whereas the Melody Maker and its nearest rival the NME (New Musical Express) were in tabloid format and were published weekly, the Beat Instrumental was half the size with a glossy outer cover and came out on a monthly basis. Early editions had black and white graphics but later on in the sixties colour photos started to appear on the front cover and inside pages.
Recently, while reading through an old copy of Beat Instrumental from May 1965 I came across an article entitled “Geordie Beat”. I was very interested to read about the northeast music scene in the mid sixties as seen through the eyes of a London based journalist. Before reading the article I cast my mind back to 1965 and tried to remember what it was like playing in bands at that time. What was different back then, both in the northeast and elsewhere? Did anything change music wise in 1965? In fact when the Beat Instrumental article was probably written in March or April 1965, I’d just started playing in my first serious band. I remembered some of the venues I played at and some of the groups I’d shared the stage with. A couple of local groups that came to mind were the Junco Partners and the Invaders, both favourites at the Club a’Gogo. Early in 1965 Rhythm & Blues was the most popular music genre in clubs and at dances. It would be a further six months or so into the autumn of 1965 before American Soul music and Tamla Motown really started to take off in the UK.
Before saying any more about the Beat Instrumental “Geordie Beat” article I should mention another difference between the sixties and now. In 1965 the word “Geordie” was much more of a generic term than it became later on. Anyone with a hint of a northeast accent could be labelled a Geordie back then regardless of the area of the northeast in which they lived. People from Newcastle, Northumberland, Sunderland, County Durham and even as far south as Middlesbrough could be perceived as Geordies by those living further south. Nowadays the term “Geordie” is much more specific, mostly referring to people who hail from Newcastle or are a part of Newcastle United’s “Toon Army”. People from Sunderland who at one time could fall under the “Geordie” banner are now referred to as “Mackems” – a rediscovered word relating to Sunderland’s ship building industry; i.e Wearsiders made the ships (hence Mackems) and other people took them (Tackems). I can honestly say that when I lived in Sunderland through the sixties and up to 1973 I never heard the word Mackem used as a term for Sunderland people.
So moving on to the actual article about the northeast music scene written by the Beat Instrumental journalist John Emery. To his credit Emery had done his research before venturing up north from London. The “Geordie Beat” article kicks off with a comparison between the Merseyside groups of the sixties and their northeast counterparts. It describes, in the wake of the Beatles, the success of many Liverpudlian bands. It suggests that the success of The Animals in 1964 should have spearheaded a serge of northeast bands and the recognition of a Geordie Sound similar to the rise of Mersey Sound in the Liverpool area. Of course, that didn’t happen.
John Emery blamed the failure of northeast groups to make the big time on the reluctance of their members to give up their day time jobs. According to Emery, musicians in Merseyside bands were all too willing to become fully professional in an attempt to emulate the success of the Beatles. It seemed that the meteoric rise of The Animals wasn’t enough to inspire fellow Geordie musicians in the same way as had happened in the Liverpool area.
As an example of what could go wrong for those groups who were willing to take the plunge, the article mentions an ill-fated attempt to raise the profile of a number of northeast groups. In 1964 “The Geordie Sound Tour” was put together by Keith Beckett from Tyne Tees Television. The show, which featured a handful of local groups was scheduled to tour the UK. It was also going to include a number of national acts at various stages of the tour. Unfortunately “The Geordie Beat Show” lost its impetus after just a few performances and was never completed. Those northeast musicians who had given up their day jobs and had cancelled local gigs in order to take part in the show had their hopes dashed. The groups that I know of that took part were: Kim and the Kinetics, The Delemares and Paul Ryan & The Streaks. As a teenager I actually saw the “The Geordie Sound Tour” at the Sunderland Empire. The guest artist on that occasion was Joe Cocker before he became really big. At that time Joe Cocker was still being described as an ex-gas fitter from Sheffield!
The Beat Instrumental article goes on to describe another series of thirteen TV shows showcasing northeast bands. “Rehearsal Room” was a fifteen minute music programme hosted by Tyne Tees Television. Each programme featured one northeast band plus an appearance by a “name” artist. The final programme featured the best six groups of the thirteen that had previously appeared on Rehearsal Room. At the end of the show a panel of judges picked the best group of the six. The Silver Dollars were judged to be the winners and went on to record a single called “Rainbow”.
Following the success of Rehearsal Room, Tyne Tees Television subsequently produced another show called “The Geordie Beat” (not to be confused with “The Geordie Sound Tour” described above). The Tyne Tees two and a half hour show took place at Newcastle City Hall on 25th September 1964. It was edited down to forty five minutes and was subsequently aired on Tyne Tees Television and other regional networks on Sunday 27th September 1964. The northeast groups that took part in the show were: Paul Ryan & The Streaks, the Del Five, the Starliners, the Silver Dollars, and the Caesars plus The Animals. The Yardbirds also had a slot on the programme. The Geordie beat was intended as a showcase for local bands. Tickets for the show were given away free to 2,000 lucky fans.
John Emery’s article goes on to cover local entertainment agencies and recording studios before describing northeast clubs and venues. As this is probably the most interesting part from the Geordie Beat feature, I’ll take the liberty of copying that part of the article word for word: –
‘There are a countless number of little clubs in the North-East. I’ll single out the most popular ones, with of course the ballrooms. “The Club a’Gogo” in Percy Street, Newcastle, is undoubtedly “The” club in the North-East, thanks principally to The Animals who started there – and have let everyone know it. In fact they recorded a sort of “tribute” titled “Club A Gogo” on the back of their single “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. Mr Myer Thomas started at the club as a doorman but is now manager since Mike Jeffery left to become The Animals full-time manager. “When we first opened” recalled Mr Thomas, “The scene was all jazz with Johnny Dankworth, Eric Delaney and Tubby Hayes playing here. But things started slipping. Then a bloke called Eric Burdon visited the club and kept raving about this R’n’B thing he was doing with the Alan Price Combo”.
Mike decided to give the group a try. They expanded to become The Animals and started off the whole scene up there. The club, itself, is quite unique in the way that it is divided into two sections. There are two ballrooms – one for the 13 to 18 age group, the other – which is licensed – is for those from 18 upwards. “We have ‘em here from the cradle to the grave” joked Mr Thomas.
Compared to London clubs, admission to the club is very cheap. Membership for juniors (13-18) is 2/- per annum; and for seniors it is 7/6d. Entrance fees vary from 1/6d on disc nights to 3/6d when a group appears. Sometimes when a “name” group or artiste appears this has to be raised. “But we never go beyond 6/-“ said Mr Thomas.
Local groups that appear at the club are the Junco Partners who are resident, the Von Dykes, Outliners, Downbeats and V.I.P.’s. The pianist of the V.I.P.’s wrote “Blue Feeling” which The Animals used on the “B” side of their American hit “Boom Boom”.
Still in the club field we move across to the Blue Note in Sunderland and “The Scene” in Middlesbrough. Ray Grehan promotes both clubs and shows there is a contrast in the North East. They might worship R’n’B in Newcastle, but Sunderland and Middlesbrough are fed up with it.
Ray told me: “It’s extinct. They’ve listened to it and want something else. I’m now aiming for the big-band type sounds, Cliff Bennett for example.
Both these clubs are open seven nights a week and five nights have groups appearing.
The main ballroom in this part of the country is the Majestic, a Top Rank concern, in Newcastle. It is open seven night a week, four of which feature groups, two a show band and one for discs.
There are also Top Rank ballrooms in Darlington and Middlesbrough. These are open five night a week.’
Despite the efforts of promoters, Tyne Tees Television and the cream of the north east’s local groups the “Geordie Beat” avalanche, similar to the rise of the Mersey Sound, didn’t happen in the sixties. John Emery argued that this was because of a lack of ambition on the part of the north east’s groups. Another view was put forward by Paul Ryan, whose group the Streaks had taken part in the ill fated “Geordie Beat Show”. In an interview with the Newcastle Evening Chronicle he put the blame on northeast teenagers for their lack of support for local bands. He claimed that in Liverpool the kids were only interested in their local groups whereas in Newcastle teenagers behaved like sheep and only supported well-known national groups.
In spite of the failure in 1964 to establish a “Geordie Beat” and launch the careers of northeast groups, through the decades there has always been a steady stream of northeast bands and individual musicians who have made the grade. There are too many to mention here but some from the sixties and seventies that spring to mind are: Paul Rodgers, Lindisfarne, Bryan Ferry, David Coverdale, Mark Knopfler, Chris Rea, John Miles, Sting and Brian Johnson. The stream continued from the sixties and seventies through to the present day with artists such as the Tygers Of Pan Tang, Jimmy Nail, the Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, the Futureheads and more recently Sam Fender. There are also many northeast musicians who have been a part of well known successful bands. They include – Nigel Olsson (Elton John’s drummer), Dave Stewart (the Eurythmics) and Don Airey (keyboardist with Rainbow and Deep Purple).
Even if there is no recognised Geordie Beat or Geordie Sound I think all of us who fall into the sixties definition of a Geordie can be proud of our home grown musicians and the part they have played in shaping the history of popular music.