60s Today contributor Ian Mole recalls the experience of seeing Lindisfarne and Jack the Lad live on several occasions.
Even though they were devout Newcastle F.C. fans and I felt the same about Sunderland A.F.C., I never let that get in the way of me liking Lindisfarne. ‘Meet Me on the Corner’ was a sizeable hit in early 1972 and I liked it a lot. Given its subject matter (drug dealing), I’m surprised it ever made it onto Top of The Pops. My affection for the band was enhanced when I moved down to London in October of the same year, and, being 18 and finding it quite difficult to adjust to life in the big city, I valued any link to my native North East. Their song ‘All Fall Down’ was a minor hit at that very time and it always reminds me of looking out of the window of our rather grim communal bathroom in the hall of residence where I lived.
The original band split up in early 1973, with main songwriter Alan Hull and vocalist and harmonica player Ray Jackson (Jacka) retaining the name Lindisfarne. They added Tommy Duffy on bass guitar, Kenny Craddock on keyboards, Charlie Harcourt on guitar and Paul Nichols on drums. The other three members created a new band called Jack the Lad with the addition of former Lindisfarne member Billy Mitchell on guitar, banjo and vocals.
I never saw the original line-up and the first time I saw the new one was at the Locarno Ballroom in Sunderland, on Friday 20th July 1973. They were supported by a very different type of band, UFO, whom I thought were nothing special, but to me Lindisfarne were great. I was there with a group of mates from home and most of them weren’t impressed as it happened. The only one of them who also liked Lindisfarne jocularly suggested that he and I were “too straight”. In some circles back then, being ‘straight’ or ‘a freak’ was a crucial categorization.
They did their big hits to date – ‘Meet Me on the Corner’ and ‘Lady Eleanor’ -, as well as other popular songs, such as ‘Fog on the Tyne’, in which they chorused “The fog on the Wear is all queer, all queer”, ‘Clear White Light’ and ‘We Can Swing Together’. Alan Hull had recently released the solo album ‘Pipedream’ and they did one or two from that, including a song called ‘Breakfast’, a couple of lines of which have always stuck in my mind: “Watch your striptease in reverse / Dip my hand right in your purse.” The show didn’t finish till nearly 1am for some reason, much later than usual for that venue.
In December of that same year, I saw them in the Great Hall at Imperial College, London and they were supported by solo singer-songwriter Claire Hammill, who was from Teesside, so it was a bit of a North East night. Their set was very similar to the previous gig and there was a great atmosphere. I was sitting in the balcony, but you could hear them stamping their feet as they counted the songs in. Tommy Duffy played great lilting bass at the climax of ‘Lady Eleanor’.
One thing that irritated a lot of people about Lindisfarne was them endlessly alluding to local Tyneside matters and speaking in the Geordie dialect. For example, just as Alan Hull was about to launch into a song, for some reason he said: “Yer bugger!” I can see that they must have seemed parochial, but at that time such patter was exactly what I wanted to hear.
Most of their songs that I was acquainted with had universal themes. At one point, Jacka extolled the virtues of Newcastle Brown Ale, saying that unlike heroin, it didn’t leave holes in your arms. A college mate from Tyneside travelled to and from the gig with me on the 73 bus and I bumped into an attractive girl from my old school who greeted me warmly, so all in all it was a fine evening.
The last time I saw them was at the Roundhouse in London, around March 1975, an event that was billed as their “Farewell to London” gig. Their recent albums hadn’t achieved the success they’d hoped for, so they’d decided to go their separate ways, but they’d be back together in their original line-up before too long.
The Roundhouse was stand-up only in those days and we were pressed up close to the front. Alan Hull’s wife was onstage looking a bit awkward during the encore and a mate of mine kicked a football onto the stage and knocked a bottle full of beer off an amp. At one point I heard Jacka sing semi-audibly, “We gotta get out of this place”, which may have been a reflection of how he felt about the gig. I never saw them again after that and heard little of their recordings. I thought their comeback hit ‘Run for Home’ was contrived and on the te9dious side, while the least said about their version of ‘Fog on the Tyne’ with Gazza, the better. During the 70s, I’d got used to living away from home in London and maybe I didn’t need them any more.
In 1995, I was saddened to hear of Alan Hull’s death at the age of only 50. In April 1973, I’d seen him on a train when I was on my way to Newcastle from Kings Cross. He was sitting alone at a table in the buffet car and there were quite a number of empty miniature spirit bottles beside him. He didn’t look at all happy to me. On a brighter note, some years back I was under the impression that Jacka had also died but during a visit to my dentist, who happened to be from Newcastle, he informed me that not only was Jacka very much alive but he was a good mate of his.
I saw Jack the Lad a couple of times and enjoyed their very upbeat folky songs, especially one called ‘Oakley Strike Evictions’, which doesn’t sound too interesting but in fact was very catchy and contained the memorable lines: “What would I do if I had the power mesel? / I’d hang the twenty candymen and Johnny who carries the bell.” The first time I saw them was at an open air event in Backhouse Park, Sunderland in July 1974. It was part of a Council-run initiative called Experiment in Leisure, and I saw Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers at another concert. Their line-up was Rod Clements on bass, violin, guitar and vocals, Simon Cowe on banjo, mandolin and vocals, Ray Laidlaw on drums and the aforementioned Billy Mitchell. They were much more folky than Lindisfarne and some of the small but appreciative crowd were dancing.
I saw them again about six months later at Bedford College in Regents Park and they went down well again with the boozy student crowd. The first act on that night was in stark contrast to their bouncy happy sound. It was a small band called Mobius and they were all beards and robes with oceans of ethereal synth sounds. They were a bit scary. Anyway, Jack the Lad soon cheered me up.
Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.