'Get Ready To Rock' Interview with Ray JacksonThrough the 70’s and early 80’ Lindisfarne was arguably the biggest folk rock band on the circuit. Coupling their keen Geordie wit with well-crafted songwriting, the band found themselves in the charts on many occasions during this period. Their live shows were events where audience participation was mandatory, especially the band’s Christmas shows in Newcastle City Hall where they played over 120 times during their career.
Long-time frontman Ray Jackson has now reformed Lindisfarne and is heading back out on the road for a run of dates, including three nights at the City Hall to add to the already impressive tally. I caught up with Ray for a chat about the Lindisfarne legacy, the reformation and future plans.
DW - Hi Ray. Thanks for taking time to talk to Get Ready To Rock! today. I was thrilled to hear that you have resurrected Lindisfarne once again and that you are heading back on the road, is it good to be back ?
RJ – Yes it feels good to be back in the mainstream, so to speak. I have been playing gigs with The Gathering over the last five years, so I haven’t exactly been off the road, but it was apparent that although the band consisted of ex-members of Jethro Tull, Fairport, Steeleye and the Albion Band, it was Lindisfarne songs that were mainly the audiences’ favourites.
DW – What was the catalyst that made you decide that now was the time to regroup and get some dates together ?
RJ – In the summer of last year, 2012, Newcastle City Council honoured the memory of Alan Hull and the band by erecting a plaque outside the City Hall for his contribution towards helping bring the city and the north east area into focus so far as the arts are concerned.
Myself, Alan’s son-in law, Dave Hull-Denholm and Ian Thomson played a collection of Alan’s songs to the gathered dignitaries in front of the hall after the plaque was unveiled. Less than five months later, it was announced that the venue was to close due to a funding crisis. I was incensed that the city council had such disregard for the building and its place in rock culture.
The news of the threat to close Newcastle’s premier music venue, Newcastle City Hall was of particular significance to me and Lindisfarne, since we had played there over 120 times in our career over a period of three decades. A petition was signed by over 13,000 people pleading for it to be saved ,and many of them had been to the Lindisfarne Christmas shows.
I mentioned this to Barry McKay, who was the manager of Lindisfarne and promoter of the Christmas shows over their most successful period and asked if there was anything that could be done. He suggested that the only way to help the situation would be to stage a show, helping to keep the hall open. It was this conversation that brought Barry out of retirement and gave us the idea to revive the Lindisfarne Christmas shows.
DW – Who is joining you for the tour this time around ?
RJ – The band I have assembled have nearly all been past members of Lindisfarne from the seventies onwards. My song writing partner and ex Lindisfarne Mk II guitarist Charlie Harcourt is back with me, Steve Daggett on guitar and keys, who was a producer on a couple of albums and member of the touring band in the late seventies and eighties.
I had to have Dave and Ian alongside as the feedback from everyone who saw us play together at the plaque unveiling were exceptionally positive in their reactions. The only non-Lindisfarne member is fellow Geordie musician Paul Thompson, who was the drummer with Roxy Music and Brian Ferry.
DW – Have you been surprised at the level of interest the dates have generated so far with two of the Newcastle dates selling out very quickly ?
RJ – I was very surprised, as it has been 23 years since I left Lindisfarne and over that time I had expected the memory of my contribution to it to have dimmed. However, it seems that there is still a flame burning in peoples’ hearts to hear the songs sung and played once more by an original front man and at their favourite venue.
DW - Initially the dates were limited to Newcastle only, but you have since extended this for another three nights in Middlesbrough, Harrogate and Hull, will there be any other dates added ?
RJ – We have now added a third date at City Hall –Friday 20th December, and this is going well so far.
DW – The Lindisfarne Christmas gigs at the Newcastle City Hall are stuff of legend, are you hoping to recreate the atmosphere of those marathon runs of the band’s heyday ?
RJ – I am confident that the ingredients are already there. The band got together a few weeks ago to rehearse the songs and the combination of instruments and musicians worked better than I could have hoped for. The vintage has improved with age.
DW – When it comes to selecting the set-list, I assume it practically writes itself ?
RJ – You assume correctly.
DW – Are you expecting a crowd full of aging rockers or are you hoping that a new generation will be curious enough to come along and see what their parents have been enthusing about all these years ?
RJ – It’s an interesting point you raise. I expect the majority of the audience would have been there the first time around but as often is the case, a lot of parents influence their kids by playing music at home of favourite artists from their era, which has a knock on effect. It also seems that Lindisfarne’s music has had some influence on a new generation of musicians coming through, from both sides of the pond, (Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes etc.) which can only help in making us more accessible to a younger age group.
DW – You along with other ex members of the band have been vocal supporters of the campaign to save the Newcastle City Hall from closure, how is the campaign going ?
RJ – Having listened and taken notice of the many objectors who wrote in and signed the petition and along with my new band and I supporting the Hall by playing there, the City council have found the funding to keep the Hall from closing and for the time being at least, its future is secure.
DW – For me the City Hall is one of a dying breed of theatres that have a unique character and atmosphere which adds its own magic to a show. In fact it is enough to encourage me to head to Newcastle for gigs on occasion instead of heading to my usual haunts in Edinburgh or Glasgow. What would it mean to you and to the city to lose such a historic venue ?
RJ – The City Hall has been mentioned by so many acts over the years who have played there as the best gig on the circuit. It has an intimacy that modern stadia does not have. It has retained a foot in the past before big production tours became the norm.
There is no outlandish décor or embellishments to distract your attention from the artist on stage. You can still imagine Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Bob Dylan or The Beatles performing on stage. It’s acoustics are good for all forms of music but overall it has the best supporting audiences that I have had the experience to play to.
DW – If the hall is in need of repair and investment will it survive three lively Lindisfarne Christmas concerts ?
RJ – The hall is not in a bad state of repair as such but will need some money spent on it eventually to improve the facilities, both back stage and out front. The building was also home to the city’s swimming pool and Turkish baths which had seen better days and this was a drain on the resources of the council.
The pool has since closed but the City Hall management would like to use this redundant part of the building to improve the hall, perhaps expanding it or encompassing a smaller venue within it and improving public areas.
DW – The musical legacy of Lindisfarne is still as strong as ever which is testament to the timeless song writing of Alan Hull and Rod Clements. Do you feel a weight of responsibility to do the songs justice live ?
RJ – No – my renditions over the years helped to make them hits.
DW – One element of Lindisfarne that I have always found endearing is the band’s keen sense of humour both in the song writing and onstage. Do you feel that it’s important not to take yourselves too seriously or is that just a Geordie trait ?
RJ – In the most popular period of the band’s history we always had our feet close to the ground and were not impressed much by the business. We were quite proud of our roots and the Geordie mentality is self deprecating. The important thing to us was the freedom to play our music and entertain people.
DW – Are there any plans to continue on after the tour and into 2014 ?
RJ – Lindisfarne are back and so there will be shows here and abroad and festival appearances to come from 2014.
DW – Finally, with this latest reformation and upcoming dates what are you hoping to add to the Lindisfarne story ?
RJ –As well as playing the legendary Newcastle City Hall concerts, the door is always open for the surviving original members to join me at some stage with a Lindisfarne special concert involving the new and old.
It would be good to develop the band further by creating some new songs and recording them. Whatever happens, the music that Lindisfarne created and our past reputation for performing live entertaining music, will continue.
DW – Thanks Ray for taking the time to have a chat and look forward to seeing you and the guys destroy the City Hall in December, not literally hopefully !
RJ – Hope to see you there, more musical history in the making!
Interview by David Wilson