Do you remember the 1980s? Were you alive in the 1980s? I was obsessed with music from being a small child and fell in love with singing around the piano of Miss Dorothy Moss in St. Peter’s Infant School in Napier Street, South Bank, Middlesbrough. After a disastrous spell learning violin in the junior school, I found my epiphany occurring one Sunday afternoon when I was nine years old while watching an old movie on the TV. The Five Pennies, starring Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong chronicled the life of a famous jazz cornet player called Red Nichols. The moment Kaye, who played Nichols, had a trumpet fight with Louis Armstrong in a jazz speakeasy, playing Battle Hymn of The Republic, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
When I joined St. Peter’s Comprehensive in 1980, I was green with envy when my best friend Shaun Finn told me he was going to learn the trumpet. His music teacher, Mr Joe Mullen, had signed him up for a lesson with Mr Dennis to learn. At playtime I went to find this very famous deputy headmaster to ask if I could do the same. Joe Mullen went on to be a huge influence on my life; I will never be able to repay the friendship and the kindness he showed me in the years to come. He is the ‘hero teacher’ who invented the genre. After serving with the Navy in World War 2, as a communications officer, he faced a very difficult decision on being demobbed. He was a fantastic inside left football player and actually sat in front of the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers who was begging Joe to sign a contract to play for the club.
He had also had a work offer from Mr Andrew Skillen, Headmaster of St. Peter’s Comprehensive School in South Bank, to start work as a Music/PE teacher. Joe weighed the options up and decided that, if he injured himself, his football career could be over in months. Teaching could be a career for life and a more secure option for his young family. He chose the latter. What young man would make that decision today? He went on to be an inspiration to thousands of young people and set me on the road to learning everything I know.
I found Joe Mullen that lunchtime to ask him if I too, could learn the trumpet. He was busy playing football with the fifth year lads and asked me to wait till he scored from a cross coming in…which he did! He then turned to me and said, “come and speak to me at my office after the break and we will sort something out”. This was the key to the to the door that I needed to embark on my musical journey. I was, from that moment taught by the legendary Kel Dennis for my trumpet. Joe himself took me on as a Piano student when I was 18 and helped develop my understanding of chords and songwriting. It was through Joe I fell in love with the songs of Hoagey Carmichael and the brilliant piano work of George Shearing and Oscar Peterson.
I started kicking my first heels into playing popular music from around 1985/1986. I remember sitting in The Eston Campus Band with Darren O’Brien and him mentioning the chance of starting a band with some lads that he knew who lived on our estate. Off I popped in the Easter holidays of 1985 to Andrew Turner’s house where we attempted to play in his front room. A band was formed. Playing in this band were Steve Maynard, Andrew Turner, Darren O’Brien and Mike Mackin and we began rehearsing and performing in church halls and scout huts. We played songs like Desert Moon and Babe; with Julie Landells helping on the vocals and the band nodding towards the genre of classic american rock. This early version of band fizzled out of existence and I joined a band with Bernard O’Hagan and Stephen ‘Kirky’ Kirk (who owned a Korg MS20 which he had purchased with his ICI apprenticeship wages). Two of us (Bernard and myself) attended school at St. Peter’s in South Bank. Ian Erving, who was a year younger than me, was learning guitar and always asking Mike on the school bus “has your Dave started that band yet?” Mike and Ian both joined the band too and a gig at The Albert in Middlesbrough was one of the first nerve wracking ventures for the band. The gigs were few but memorable and we learned from each other. We remember playing in The St Andrews Hall to a bemused youth club audience and performed songs by a legendary Middlesbrough Indie group called The Euphoria Case, performing our own version of Richard Sanderson’s song ‘Dealing In Absolutes’. Our own version still exists on a scratchy tape but here is Sanderson’s brilliant original. https://richardsanderson.bandcamp.com/track/dealing-in-absolutes. I was playing a guitar (or pretending to play one) with no strings. A sharp eyed Julia McGough shouted out of the audience “your guitar needs some strings on it”. A lesson learned….. that you can never fool an audience!
Eventually Steve Maynard and Darren got back together with Ian, Mike and myself. The band ‘Obsession’ was formed, evolving into ‘Broken Dreams’ and then ‘Allnight Street’. All really dreadful names and probably chosen from horses racing from the the 3.30 at Redcar. When I started work for the local Civil Service in March 1987, the first thing the band did was to take a trip to Guitarzan/Bongo Bills in South Bank. I signed for a Peavey XR600 and Carlsbro speakers on the ‘never never’ along with a vocal headset mic for Mike and a Casio Keyboard for Daz. When Darren took his prized possession home to his brothers Grant and Gordon, they informed him that Casio were only good at making calculators and made him return it to buy a Yamaha DX21 instead. What a keyboard! Not having a bass player, Darren utilised this amazing instrument to allow him to play the bass lines and do both roles for the band.
We performed our first gig at The Normanby on 14th March on a booking by Mick Callaghan as a charity fundraiser for St. Peter’s Cubs. We tended to perform songs that we…and only we …..liked. Berlin ‘You Don’t Know’, Bruce Springsteen ‘Glory Days’ and Dire Straights ‘Walk Of Life’ stick in the mind. Crowd pleasers such as ‘I Just Died In Your Eyes Tonight’ by Cutting Crew and ‘Live It Up’ by Mental As Anything also are recalled. Here is a playlist of what we were up to. https://open.spotify.com/user/davemac7/playlist/5gJLeRDgiH2p4WD2NhQQIc
One memorable gig was at Wynyard Hall for the International Scout Jamboree in the summer of 1987. We ended up playing about three nights. It felt like a stadium gig.
We recorded our first songs in Ste Maynard’s garage on Regency Avenue. German Nights and Obsession were the songs. All captured on a small 4 Track recorder by the Dunston Brothers (Dave and Mark) along with Gordon O’Brien. A first venture into the art of Multi Track recording. An impromptu gig was also performed in Ste’s garden with the whole estate complaining about the noise. Further recordings were made in either Darren’s garage or shed. The Mackin garage was also used for rehearsals with their lovely neighbour Norman Hall regularly putting a request in for ‘House Of The Rising Sun’.
Ste Maynard left the band due to his work commitments and we advertised for a Bass player. Ste Thirkell joined the band and became our bass player for a while. Filling a bass playing role had been tricky and we began to believe that bass players were as rare as rocking horse shite. Ste actually played on our first two recordings in 1988 for Murder In The Rain and When We Say Goodbye. He left shortly after these sessions but thankfully had introduced us to his mates, brothers Paul and Simon Atkinson. Simon played bass and so joined the band in 1988. Darren’s Dad, Alf O’Brien, helped us buy our first van, a blue Ford Transit. Needing a place to rehearse was becoming a major problem. Darren, Mike and myself all played in The Grangetown Boys Club Brass Band and we asked our Band Master Jack Kitching if we could use the band room. After a chat to the committee it was approved and, thanks to the kindness shown by Archie and Diane Robson, we were able to rehearse every Saturday morning in the club. Often hung over, we developed our craft in that iconic band room. It was in this room that arrangements were developed for the songs: The Poison Of Love, The Moon Club, When We Say Goodbye, The Sleeping City, When I Woke Up This Morning I Was A Crazy Hairy Legged Werewolf, The End Of The Day, German Nights and Dreaming By The Sea.
To fund our dream we joined The Frank Feeney Agency to get some club work. The idea of making money to help us buy equipment was a solid one. It was a journey through an exciting few years performing in the clubs of the North East. That, however, is a story that will need a full blog entry of it’s own.
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