The Dream Sellers – Lindisfarne celebrate 40 years

PUBLISHED: 09:48 18 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:10 20 February 2013

Ray Laidlaw at the launch of the DVD, Sir Bobby Robson - A Knight to Remember, which he wrote and co-produced. Picture by Andrew Smith

Ray Laidlaw at the launch of the DVD, Sir Bobby Robson - A Knight to Remember, which he wrote and co-produced. Picture by Andrew Smith

It's 40 years this month since Tyneside folk-rock legends Lindisfarne changed the face of music with their debut album, Nicely Out of Tune. Founder member Ray Laidlaw takes a trip down memory lane with Michael Hamilton

(Reference: The original band line-up was: Alan Hull singer and guitarist, Ray Jacka Jackson on harmonica and mandolin, Rod Clements on bass, Si Cowe on guitar, and Ray Laidlaw on drums.)


MH: Tell me about the early days.
Ray: We go right back to schooldays really. Rod and Si met on their first day at Kings School in Tynemouth aged five - that would be about 1953. I met them when I was 13. We all lived in North Shields and you didnt see many people carrying guitar cases around in those days or dressed like we were then.
We were into Cliff and the Shadows but more interested in the instrumentation than the singing so it was people like Lonnie Donnegan and Duane Eddy for us. Then we found blues music. We came to it through the Stones and Yardbirds, who had been influenced by black musicians, and in turn we got interested in Chicago blues. We got into Bob Dylan and folk and realised it all came from the same
origins really.
We had a band called Downtown Faction and our guitarist Jeff Sadler was mates with Mark Knopfler, who would come along to rehearsals but didnt play with us. He was a bit shy in those days.
I was at art college in Newcastle when I met Ray Jackson. I heard this amazing harmonica playing down the corridor. I just couldnt believe a lad from Newcastle could play blues like that. We quickly became mates.


What was the biggest musical influence and how did the new name come about?
We discovered Bob Dylans group The Band - it was the time of the Basement Tapes - and realised we had been barking up the wrong tree. We dropped the heavy approach and went back to basics. We found these folk clubs where you could play acoustic music and the scales fell from our eyes.
Meanwhile, I was aware of Alan on the folk scene and I was invited to do a session for him. It was only a matter of time before we got together as Alan Hull and Brethren. We realised we made a much better noise together than we could achieve separately.
Then John Anthony, who produced our first album, came up with the name Lindisfarne, to reflect our northern roots. We thought it sounded a bit daft at first but we tried it on a few people and they loved it, so it stuck.
We were delighted to be signed by Charisma Records. We loved the boutique, bohemian feel of it, and we recorded that first album in three days.

Tell me about young Geordie
lads let loose in London.
In the early days we had nowt. The record company would put us up in a cheap hotel and wed get expenses and food but we never had any money. So we would get Strat (Tony Stratton Smith, Charisma Records chief executive) to sign us in at the Speakeasy Club (a notorious West End showbiz drinking den) and buy us a drink. Then we lived on our wits. The club was full of drunken pop stars and when they pulled their hankies out loose fivers would drop on the floor.
We lived like that for about a year.
Even when the band was at its peak we only got 50 quid a week.


You quickly became the darlings
of the music press though.
The Beatles had just finished and the charts were full of glam rock and really awful pop groups and tacky cabaret bands. We thought we had some decent content - a bit of gravitas, without sounding too pretentious. But we were also pub people and the press lads were about our age so we would go drinking with them. They liked our humour and mickey-taking.


Do you think the music stands
the test of time?
Technologically it sounds a bit primitive - it was done on 8-track after all - but the freshness and vitality of the songs still shines through.
For our second album, Fog on the Tyne, we got Bob Dylans producer Bob Johnston, and he said theres no switch on a recording desk called atmosphere. You create that yourself.


What was it like working with him?
There was a lot of pressure on us to get a second album out quickly. The record company was living a hand-to-mouth existence. We had our songs written and everything rehearsed and then we met Bob who said play me everything youve got. But only four or five of our original choices ended up on the album and he recorded it in a really stripped-down way. And he was bang on - he caught the moment.
Do you remember playing Top of the Pops and hitting your drum kit with a plastic fish?
It was really good fun doing Top of the Pops. More people remember me for hitting my drum kit with a rubber fish than anything else Ive ever done. But it was actually inspired by the drum sound Levon Helm of The Band used to get. It was a flat, slappy sound like he was hitting it with a herring. So I said to our manager get me a rubber fish so I can get that sound too.


Did it seem like you were on a crazy rollercoaster at that time?
It was wonderful touring the States. We were provisionally booked to do 10 days and ended up staying eight weeks. It just snowballed. We played up and down the east coast and west coast with heroes of ours like The Kinks and The Beach Boys. We hung out at The Troubador in LA where Jackson Browne and The Eagles used to hang out and we supported Don McLean there.
Then Fog on the Tyne hit number one when we were away. So we came back and had three weeks of being famous and not being able to walk the streets in Newcastle without being mobbed. We loved every minute but then I went back to North Shields and no one took any notice of me there.
We did the third album, Dingly Dell,and toured Europe, plus another American tour and Australia and Japan. We thought the album was really good but the backlash started when it didnt go straight to number one.
Only Bridge Over Troubled Water sold more copies than Fog on the Tyne in 1971 - and we werent prepared to deal with it when the third album wasnt an instant success.


So tell me about the split in 1973.
Alan wanted more time to write - he couldnt write to order. He started getting stroppy and made it plain he didnt want to be there. So we had a plan to get Billy Mitchell (another North Shields pal and musician) to come and do the live shows and Alan could stay at home and write songs. It was all agreed, then I went off to the States to see some friends and when I came back it was all off. Alan and Jacka wanted to get rid of Si and blamed him for everything that had gone wrong.
So in 1973 I formed Jack the Lad with Si and Rod, and Alan and Jacka had Lindisfarne mark two. Then after three years we got back together again.


Tell me about the reunion
and Run for Home.
We initially got back together for a Newcastle City Hall Christmas gig. Both Jack the Lad and Lindisfarne mark two had struggled because they didnt have the chemistry of the original band. It was the first time all five of us had been in the same room and it seemed so easy and natural.
In the spring of 1978 we sneaked off to a studio and we really liked the music we produced.
I remember Alan was messing around on the piano with his old battered exercise book with his song titles in it. I found this thing called Run for Home and I asked him what it was. He said: Its sh... - a whingeing song about wanting to be in Newcastle.
But I nagged him to play it and when he did all the lads instinctively joined in with those wonderful sweet and sour harmonies and it sounded fantastic.
At that point Gus walked in and said: Thats the single. We fell about laughing but we realised we were sitting on a monster hit. It actually sold more copies than any single we ever did. Its probably my favourite Lindisfarne song. Its become an anthem.


What was it like playing with Dylan at St. Jamess Park in 1984?
That was absolutely brilliant. We were fans of his anyway. But we wangled ourselves on to the bill because we had heard tickets werent selling very well. And we contacted the promoter and said well guarantee you another 10,000 ticket sales if you put us on. And we did.


(Reference: Alan Hull died suddenly of a heart thrombosis, in November, 1995, at the age of 50)


Alans death must have hit the band hard in 1995?
We had just done a 25th anniversary special for Tyne Tees Television and within a few months Alan was dead. For a day I couldnt believe it had happened.
I knew he wasnt well. He didnt look after himself. But Alan lived his life the way he liked to.


How special were the Christmas shows at Newcastle City Hall?
Ive played there 132 times and it feels like my home. I get a feeling of huge exaltation when I play there. I loved doing all the Christmas shows. There was no show like it. We did it because we wanted to be at home in Newcastle - we just stumbled across it.



CD set released
To coincide with the Lindisfarne's 40th anniversary, EMI is releasing, on January 17, a four-disc CD set, The Charisma Years 1970-1973, featuring all of Lindisfarne's early recordings. For more information and some great archive footage of the band go to www.lindisfarne.co.uk


What are your favourite memories of Lindisfarne?
Did you see them during their chart-topping days, supporting Bob Dylan at St Jamess Park or at their City Hall Christmas concerts? Please leave a message.

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