It is mostly a blur now of course, but there are plenty of flashes in my mind of those Friday nights back in ’79-’80 when Basczax played a residency at the Teessider pub.
50p on the door I recall, as we were trying to save money for a PA. Did we get one? I cannot remember.
The Teessider itself was just over the bridge under which the Tees flowed, on the Stockton side of the Thornaby/Stockton border. Thornaby was named after an old Viking settlement and Vikings still lived there except they had lost their horned helmets, shaved off their hair and called themselves skinheads. They would lurk in the darkness after the gigs, making punks lives difficult and making the journey to the train station a scary thing for most.
One night, I went to the station with Robbo (Dave Robinson – where the hell are you now?) We were trailed by skinheads out for some bovver. I had my tuxedo and eye liner on. They started to call me predictable things that I need not repeat: you can guess. Robbo, never the most diplomatic person when drunk, faced them off straight away: ‘Oww! What’s your fucking problem then? What-is-your-problem?’ the last line delivered in (drunk) Dalek diction. Me: ‘Oh shut up Robbo, let’s just ignore them’…No chance of that. We ended up running up the railway track in the dark to escape our hunters. I remember trying to climb over a fence and my hands stung: I had grabbed a bunch of overgrown nettles in the scramble to get over it.
Life as a late teenager was scary. Actually I was 19 nearly 20 at the time, but not yet far enough away from that horrible adolescent world that could often turn violent. We got away, and we somehow managed to get back to get the train too. However, the journey back was nervy too, as drunken men peered at us through pissed rat eyes, sneering and saying things like ‘are you punks then?’
Still, not even scary nights like this, or skins outside the pub waiting to cause trouble, stopped punks and post-punkers, bohemians and long mac(kers) denim boys and posers, and curiosity seekers, flocking to the Teessider on a Friday night.
It had been John Hodgson’s initiation I seem to remember. We talked about a regular gig and how it would be a good thing to have a place where other local bands could play together. The Teessider was not really purpose built for a band to play. There was a pillar positioned centre left of the ‘stage area’ – well, ok, floor area and it blocked your view if you were in the wrong vantage point. The floor space was just about enough to set up drums – pushed right to the back, and a mic stand centred, with guitars – lead and bass – on either side. Keyboard player John had to fit in there somehow: it was not spacious is what I am trying to say. To get to the toilets, people had to walk directly in front of the band. It was a squash, but the atmosphere made it feel like somewhere bigger.
It was always packed. It started off with maybe twenty to thirty people, most of them in local bands, and their friends/girlfriends but it rapidly grew to a chock full house. I think one night we did a door count of over a hundred people – heaven knows, they were all squashed up at the bar as well as peering above tables (this was a pub remember, tables and chairs not removed.)
We brought in good trade for the landlord, so he and his wife were pleased.
The jukebox played punk favourites: ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ was one that was always on, ‘Angel Eyes’ by Roxy Music, ‘Are Friends Electric’ by Tubeway Army. These records were suggested, I think, to the landlord, whose musical taste stopped at Elvis Presley.
I distinctly remember setting up equipment to Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’. Hearing that Blondie track today, takes me right back there. I really liked Blondie’s singles: how could you not?
We had rehearsal space upstairs too. We recorded the songs in our set up there, engineered by drummer Alan Cornforth. It wasn’t overdub recording, just capturing the songs in their live form. The recordings were released as a cassette album called ‘Terminal Madness’. We sold quite a lot of copies I seem to recall.
We worked out a song called ‘Metal Culture’ up there and played it on the same night. We were never short of ideas, at one point I was writing an average of two new songs a week, either on my own or with Jeff. We were just all flying in the moment.
The landlord and his family lived just across the landing. They had an Alsatian dog that one day, when I had left my guitar case open, shat in it. The landlord’s children were cheeky little urchins and it was revealed one day that their secret name for me – obviously they had seen me in my glam-punk eyeliner – was, ‘the man from fairyland’
Teessider nights were exciting and had a buzz about them.
I remember one of the Billingham crew who used to come and see us tell me that it was the highlight of her life coming to the Teessider. I remember well the feeling of impatience as I took the bus there every Friday. If somebody had suggested setting up a band tent outside to live there, I would have given it serious consideration.
The local music scene had exploded after punk filtered through to the provinces, just like any other large town and city outside London. And Teesside had some really good and varied bands at that time.
Apart from the local heroes No Way and The Barbarians there was the dada art punk of Shoot the lights out. There was the tuneful and upbeat new wave of Deja Vu, the fractured minimalist scratchy punk of Bombay Drug Squad, the very interesting and unique Drop, led by Richard Sanderson, whose willowy, fragile stage presence was compelling to watch.
Another really good band from that time was The Sines. Frontman Doug Palfreeman showed up solo one night at the Teessider and asked if he could play some songs. He did. And he nearly shredded my guitar strings too as he gave an explosive Pete Townshend style performance, borrowing my Kay Strat. He turned up again with a full band – well, a trio. They played some blistering Who-like songs and never failed to impress with their high energy performances.
There were other bands, very much outside of the Teessider crowd, but still doing their bit for the advancement of local culture: Carl Green and the Scene and Dimmer’s power pop outfit The Commercial Acrobats being only two of them.
Monitor, Jeff’s band before Basczax, developed into a really good band, with a female singer and good guitarist I had worked with before called Alan Hunter. They didn’t last long though – pity, as I remember them as a band with potential.
Then there was the anarcho-smut punk of The Amazing Space Frogs, a band that I occasionally played bass and guitar for. Frontman Bugsy was like something out of a punk Carry On film – gloriously inane and puerile.
Bands, bands….there seemed to be new ones forming on a weekly basis.
The biggest pity, was that the scene went largely unreported outside the area. Manchester, Glasgow and Sheffield had their own scenes going on, reported in the weekly music papers like Sounds and N.M.E, but nobody came to Teesside.
John Hodgson, I remember, was always trying to find an in-road to attracting press to Teesside. He actually achieved a pretty good scoop once: a two page spread in the then new Smash Hits magazine, which highlighted the local music scene. We all waited for the press to arrive. They never came.
Larry Ottaway formed Pipeline Records, on which we released ‘Madison Fallout’/Auto Mekanik Destruktor’ in December 1979. There was a lot of talk of him being the area’s Tony Wilson at the time, somebody to get the music scene noticed, but it came to nothing when he disappeared to Hong Kong. He had to go there for work reasons and that was the end of Pipeline, who were going to release something by Drop too. This was the whole reason the area was invisible: there was no sussed entrepreneur to cause some ripples outside the area. The fight was always the same: against apathy and lack of exposure.
Basczax were causing our own ripples though. We toured with early Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark, a tour that came about through Rough Trade putting us forward for the support. Our single sold well and went into its second pressing; Rough Trade was interested in us. So were Dindisc, the Virgin subsidiary label. We had no manager though and were probably very naive when it came to following such interest through. I have no idea what happened to those A@R people or why it all just fizzled out.
Never mind. We had our own thing going on anyway at the Teessider.
One hot summer night in June, Fast Records’ The Flowers came down from Edinburgh to play with us. They arrived for the gig pretty frazzled from the journey. I remember talking to the guitarist Simon who told me that Joy Division’s just then released album ‘Unknown Pleasures’ was incredible and that I had to hear it. He was right: hearing that album was a kind of epiphany moment, as it was for so many people of that time and generation. It is hard to describe the impact that record had. It was not punk but was obviously music that was from the spirit of Punk. It had a wiry and sparse sound to it, like dub in parts. Need I say the obvious? It was massively influential.
The Flowers were a pretty quirky lot and they performed a great set. I can remember Richard Sanderson dancing in front of them quite vividly. I think we raised the entrance price that night as they needed expenses. They stayed in the glamourous location of Redcar at Basczax bassist Mick Todd’s house. I remember singer Hilary asking us if there was a fish and chip shop nearby as she hadn’t eaten since breakfast time. There wasn’t. I think they dropped off somewhere to get some though.
One night, a band played who made me feel we had serious competition.
They were called Savage Passion (Ian Ingram told me the ‘savage’ was after me – but he was a smooth talking gypo and probably lying!)
The band had a very charismatic front man in Ian. I remember some girls next to me nearly passing out when he took his shirt off to stand at the mic in an Iggy pose. One of them laughed, looked at me and said ‘cor…he’s gorgeous!’ I remember replying: ‘why are you telling me?!’…
I am sure Ian took full advantage of his female admirers. But he took too many drugs, lost his focus and ruined himself. Savage Passion fell apart because of Ian’s antics. Maybe he really did think he was Iggy Pop. Pity.
Like any halcyon time, you think it is all going to last forever, but of course it didn’t and couldn’t.
The scene changed drastically I recall with the arrival of ska and then, of all things, a Mod revival. Skinheads suddenly seemed to be everywhere. Most of them of course were all right, but there was always that nasty edge when they were around.
The Teessider landlords suddenly put a stop to the Friday night slot. They were starting to get arsey with us for some reason, I think the landlord’s wife was sick of it all and it was a long Friday night, with a lot of people lingering and staying too late.
There was the sense of the end of an era when it all stopped. In fact, somebody actually said that to me at the time.
To all those who came to the Teessider: cheers and I hope life and sister fate have treated you all well.
Now, where is that copy of ‘Unknown Pleasures’…and Gang of Four’s ‘Damaged Goods’ EP?
(This post first appeared at Sav’s blog)
Bio: Alan Savage is a Middlesbrough, U.K, born singer and songwriter. He releases music under his own name and other guises such as Dada Guitars and The Crystaleens.