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a few thoughts about 22 December City Hall gig....Normally, my memory is almost infallible when it comes to precisely locating an event of great magnitude in my life. Indeed I also remember utterly banal details as well; however, I am unable to pinpoint exactly when I first became aware of the existence of Lindisfarne, but I’d assume it was around summer 1972 when I was turning 8 years old. The reason for this is that I’ve a very clear memory of watching Top of the Pops around that time, specifically hearing Dr. Hook’s Sylvia’s Mother and I have a vague recollection of Pan’s People dancing to Lady Eleanor, which I was far too young to find erotic of course. The question raised by this narrative chronology is that it means I had no knowledge of Meet Me on the Corner being an equally big hit about two months earlier. What is undeniable is that I learned immediately, though I’ve no idea how, unless it was sight of Alan Hull’s tremendous fashion choice of a bairn’s sized Newcastle home shirt on a legendary performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, that Lindisfarne were Geordies. This was very important to me.
Two months later, in October 1972, when in London to attend the wedding of my mother’s cousin Kathleen, I doubled my record collection by augmenting my 7” singles of Here Comes My Baby by The Tremeloes and Simon & Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy) with Peter Skellern’s You’re A Lady and Virginia Plain by Roxy Music. Paul Thompson the drummer may have agreed with me, but I’d imagine Bryan Ferry would have winced when I made this a purchase from a shop on Walworth Road in SE17 on the Sunday after the wedding, reasoning that Roxy Music must be good because they were Geordies as well.
My Lindisfarne collection didn’t get off the ground until I made the slightly obscure, slightly obtuse purchase of All Fall Down on 7” from Callers on Northumberland Street with part of a 60p record token I received as a Christmas Present. So it was that as 1972 rolled on to 1973, aged 8 and a third, I now had 2 favourite bands; Lindisfarne and Roxy Music, both of whom were about to undergo a seismic shift in personnel. For Roxy Music, 73 was to mark the departure of their most intriguing member, Brian Eno, but also their most enduring album; Stranded. For Lindisfarne, the first great schism saw the appearance of Jack the Lad and the emergence of Lindisfarne II; though I wasn’t to know this at the time, but Roll on Ruby is an absolute classic, with tracks such as North Country Boy, Goodbye, Taking Care of Business and When the War is Over being some of their finest moments. Hold on; like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse 5, I’m becoming unstuck in time…
If I’d been 7 or 8 years older, there is absolutely no doubt I’d have been a hippy. I could easily have seen myself among the counter culture Tyneside social milieu that drifted from Kard Bar and Fynd in the Handyside Arcade down to The Percy, The Farmer’s Rest, The Haymarket and The City Tavern. I could have grown my hair (up rather than down of course). I could have gone to The Poly and studied Sociology. I could have drunk bottles of Amber and smoked unhelpfully weak weed at parties on Brighton Grove or Osborne Road. That would have been my idea of heaven. I could have been a contender if I’d been born in 57, not 64. As it was, I combined a burgeoning love of music with an obsession with football; things haven’t essentially changed all that much I must admit.
However, despite my profound belief that I could have been a patchouli-scented long hair on the bus from Leam Lane to Worswick Street, let me make it crystal clear from the outset that I hold all hard, heavy or blues rock, with the exception of Led Zeppelin and Rory Gallagher, in absolute contempt. Similarly, I have little or no truck with progressive, soft or AOR rock. My loyalty is to Folk Rock, forged by my dad’s insistence, for which I will be eternally grateful, of force feeding me Irish rebel and traditional music from the cradle; The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners were the soundtrack to my early childhood and so Thin Lizzy’s sublime cover of Whiskey in the Jar made absolute, perfect sense to me. It still does.
I don’t believe in any of that revolutionary art Stalinist baloney, but I’m a Socialist and I love music for the people, by the people and about the people; does any song better encapsulate the rites of friendship and social interaction better than the simple pleasures outlined in Alright on the Night? My continued and lifelong devotion to Christy Moore, Fairport Convention and Lindisfarne is because I instinctively yearn for harmony, ideological inclusivity and the sound of a mandolin on every song I hear. Well perhaps not on Mladic by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but you get the idea. This love of celebratory euphony is obviously where my current and prolonged adoration of Teenage Fanclub and Trembling Bells comes from as well. However, that was all for the future and all I could do was to react with abject dismay when I saw the headline in Record Mirror sometime early in 1975 that Lindisfarne had split up.
By this time, I had started to save every penny of my pocket money for records. I was determined to augment my single Lindisfarne 7” single, as well the as encyclopaedic knowledge I had of my cousin John’s copy of the Fog on the Tyne album, so I purchased the essential and still cherished to this day, compilation Lindisfarne’s Finest Hour. Track 2, side 1; The Road to Kingdom Come is still to my mind the very best song Lindisfarne ever did. From hearing the opening couplet “I have no-one to call my friend; the road I travel has no end” to hearing the driving, rock violin on it, I was hooked. Mesmerised. Until I die I know this song will be one of the most important pieces of music I own, dear to me in a way that We Can Swing Together, adored because it evokes an era I was alive during but did not live through and Uncle Sam, so perfectly formed and with such marvellous lyrics, will also be.
Around this time, while I still said I loved Roxy Music, although Lydon’s subsequent line ever felt you’ve been cheated? would be my comment on both Siren and Ferry’s risible solo releases, I had fallen in the thrall of Bob Dylan. I bought Desire in late 75, then Highway 61 Revisited, Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde, Planet Waves and Blood on the Tracks in quick succession. As I couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket or play guitar with any degree of competency, he was my idol. The albums listed previously would all still be among my most adored discs, even if he did steal It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry from Train in G Major (ahem…). Then, as a new musical phenomenon brewed in the capital as the long hot summer of 76 came to an end, and I wondered why I’d wasted £2.50 on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s desperately dull Gimme Back My Bullets, an item on BBC Look North made me sit up and take notice; Lindisfarne were reforming to play 2 shows (subsequently extended to 3) at the City Hall on December 22nd and 23rd 1976.
Immediately I begged my parents to get me a ticket for Christmas; amazingly, as they generally spent my youth discouraging me from enjoying myself, they assented and so cousin John and I found ourselves in the balcony on December 22nd, ready for an event that gave me the profound and unflinching love of live music I have still. While John had already seen Thin Lizzy on the Johnny the Fox tour a couple of months earlier, this was my first proper gig; although I had seen the Clancy Brothers with my parents aged about 4. I have no proper recollection of that one, but Lindisfarne blew me away; the unfamiliar No Time to Lose and the minor diamond Scotch Mist were superb, as were all the favourites, especially We Can Swing together. Having only heard the album version, knowing the words by heart, I had not been aware of Jacka’s harmonica party piece; the singing and cheering and stamping of feet to Blaydon Races was fantastic, but to hear the relentless booing of the Z-Cars theme was even better. Not only does We Can Swing Together concern Police oppression, but the Mackems used to run out to Z-Cars and the audience would have known that. Lindisfarne are a Newcastle band; end of story. However, that night, it was the truly anthemic Clear White Light that seemed to unite the whole room that really grabbed me by the throat; other than at football, I’d never felt such a shared, passionate belief in something. Even now, from 37 years distant, I well up with tears at the thought of it.
Lindisfarne at the City Hall was my first gig; since then there have been thousands of others, many have been even better (The Buzzcocks from 1978 to 2011, The Fall in 1981, Van Morrison at Glastonbury 1987, Pussy Galore in 1988, Fugazi every time, Teenage Fanclub at Barrowlands in 2003 and 2006, Trembling Bells a month ago at The Cumberland), but none have had as profound effect on me. Then again, 2 nights later I lay in bed on Christmas Eve, listening to drunks staggering up and down Nursery Lane on their way home from Felling club, with John Peel on the radio and his first ever Festive 50 and in the part of the show before that, he played (I Belong to the) Blank Generation by Richard Hell and the Void-oids, which changed my world view forever. UK cartoon punk I despise, with only Wire and The Buzzcocks appealing to me from the 77 era, but US No Wave and UK 78 post punk on Rough Trade and Fast Product still means more to me than anything other than folk or C86 era indie.
Despite a seismic change in tastes, I was back at the City Hall in December 1977 for the next Lindisfarne Christmas show, though this time we were in Row D of the stalls and up in the crush at the front from the very start. It was blinding, as good as the year before in terms of music, but I was better prepared as I now knew how to behave at a gig. The sweating crushes at City Hall gigs and in the centre of the Gallowgate really put the so-called mosh pits of later years to shame; we knew how to shove and perspire for 90 minutes back in the late 70s. I really music get a copy of Magic in the Air, the live album recorded in 1977.
Then, in January 1978, it was announced Lindisfarne had reformed but sadly I’d moved on; I loved and adored the first 3 proper albums, as well as Finest Hour and Roll on Ruby (I’ve still never heard Happy Daze) and I’ve subsequently picked up Lindisfarne Live from the 1971 Christmas Show. In point of fact, I’ve never owned or even heard all of Back and Fourth; by the time it came out Damaged Goods by The Gang of Four and We Are all Prostitutes by The Pop Group were more the soundtrack to my life. I still made it to Christmas shows in 1980 and 1983 and enjoyed them immensely, but it felt like Lindisfarne had been part of my childhood and that chapter in my life was closing. I kept the records but, as we all did in the 1990s, I dispensed with my turntable and left my vinyl to gather dust along with my memories. Alan Hull’s death in 1995 upset me greatly, but it didn’t ever occur to me to attend the tribute shows at the City Hall, which is something I profoundly regret. The less said about the recorded output of Lindisfarne post Jacka’s departure the better; certainly being next door to the Tyne Theatre in The Bodega having a post-match pint after a 1-1 draw with Villa, on the night of the last ever Lindisfarne gig in November 2003, brought only a negligible pang of regret at my non-attendance.
It wasn’t until about 2009 that I rediscovered my love for Lindisfarne; walking round Tynemouth and seeing Ray Laidlaw on an almost daily basis was part of it, but the main part was being given a turntable for Christmas. My goodness, how I’ve fallen back in love with vinyl; my original records, new releases and the piles of cheap, pre-owned stuff I get at Tynemouth Station market every Sunday. It’s where I got Lindisfarne Live from. Then, in 2012 I began to take my rediscovered love of Lindisfarne more seriously. Ray Laidlaw booked Rab Noakes to play Porters’ Coffee House in Tynemouth Station, on the day Shola’s 90th minute equaliser salvaged a point against the Mackems. I took my partner Laura, on the back of only ever having heard Turn a Deaf Ear and Together Forever, which he played a lovely version of, but it wasn’t as lovely as the cover I heard of it by The Gathering a few weeks later in The Cluny 2. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time -:
Jacka, together with former members of Magna Carta and Fotheringay, played at the Cluny 2. Great gig it was, I’d think twice about attending this cramped, claustrophobic cellar again; 12 people pushing past you to get to the bog in one song is just no fun. To be fair, it was a non-Ray Jackson number and the audience were only there for him. He began with “Road To Kingdom Come,” took in “Together Forever” and “Lady Elanor,” before ending with “Meet Me On The Corner.” It honestly had me on the verge of tears; there was no “We Can Swing Together,” but he did the harmonica bits as a last encore. “Blaydon Races” on the mandolin? You can’t beat it.
It was great to see Ray Jackson again, though I’d struggle to recollect any of the songs by the other two, but no matter, I had the chance to exchange a few words with Jacka at the interval and that made my night.
Could it get any better than this? Well, the announcement in February 2013 of Christmas gigs at the City Hall certainly topped that. While I knew Ray Laidlaw, Rod Clements, who apparently attended the December 22nd gig, or Simon Cowe wouldn’t be involved (what I wouldn’t give to sample some of his Magnotta Brewery products), I simply had to be at this gig. As she’d never seen them in the flesh before, I got Laura a ticket as well and, as it was February, I promptly forgot about it. There was a Lindisfarne Story gig at the City Hall in June, but the same night I was seeing Camera Obscura at Northumbria University so I couldn’t get to see it; I hope to at some point though.
The closer it got to December 22nd , the more I began to look forward to it and, to be perfectly honest, the more emotional I began to feel. The sheer shock at registering just how much of life has gone by can make me catch my breath at times. I’ve been a Lindisfarne fan for over 40 years and it would be 37 years to the day since I’d seen them live for the first time. Arriving at the City Hall at 7.15 was nostalgic to say the least; people my age and older, many with teenage kids (I would have loved my son to be there, but he was away down to his mother’s family for Christmas) queued up, murmuring excitement; anticipation rife as we collected the traditional party hats and made our way to the stalls. Row H on the aisle; we needed space for dancing later on and, badly though we did so, dance we did.
I’ve hardly been in the City Hall in 30 years; 2012’s Christy Moore gig on Easter Sunday was the first time since I can’t remember when. It hasn’t changed; though the audience didn’t seem to consist of as many long haired, Brutus and Wrangler attired, cheesecloth shirt and waistcoat wearing blokes, swigging from cans of Export or Brown Ale compared to the old days. The security were more relaxed as well; though since the audience was considerably more genteel, if not frail, than 1976, I suppose that’s understood.
On stage at 7.45, off for a break at 8.35, back on at 9.00 and the last encore finished at 10.40; what wonderful value for money. However, it was also a wonderful show, from the opening Road to Kingdom Come to the closing Clear White Light we were in raptures. I even parked my teenage punk cynicism to sing along to Warm Feeling and Run for Home. There were wonderful surprises, such as Uncle Sam and Wake up Little Sister; songs I just didn’t expect to hear. The band was immaculate; the irony of Roxy’s Paul Thompson on drums amused me, though more seriously Steve Daggett does Simon Cowe’s part so well, but it was Dave Hull-Denholm who really did it for me. If you closed your eyes in January Song or Winter Song… well, it was uncanny. Mind, I seemed to be one of the few who remembered to boo during the Z-Cars part of We Can Swing Together.
Two things particularly amazed me; one being that from all these years distant, I still knew all the words (unlike Jacka in Together Forever) and the other was that I didn’t cry. Not once. I’m misty eyed when typing this, but the night itself had me smiling from start to finish. A magnificent, heart-warming, life-affirming, essential evening of utterly brilliant entertainment; I simply cannot wait until next year’s show. I know, at some elemental part of my soul, that I will love the music of Lindisfarne until I die. And I’m comforted by that fact.