Online Archive  
Issue 10 - February 1973
The North East Music Scene


The north-east music scene contains everything if you know where to find it.

On Tuesday nights at Balmbras Music Hall they have a country and western night. It's a fabulous environment consisting of the original Victorian decor, candelabrum(!) arched roofing, carved wooden bar and mirrors etc. It's free, you just walk in and everybody is standing around in that peculiar sort of semi-formal Geordie public-house informality. The music is Johnny Cash, Merle Travis and that. Last week's band (who are usually on) features an excellent steel pedal guitarist, an 18 stone guitarist with an orange Gretsch Firebird who somehow seems to be sque-e-ezing licks out of it, plus an excellent bass player and a snappy drummer who sounds as though he learnt to play in the army. There are two singers, a rather small guy who is the gaffer of the outfit with a gravelly Nashville / Geordie voice the texture of which contrasts rather well with his lady partner who has a sort of country music gospel style ("here is one I learnt back in the little wooden church where the congregation are still praying for the soul of little Jimmy Brown", type thing) corny but a great scene.

So that's the back room downstairs in Balmbras Tuesday nights and don't ask at the bar for sasparilla.


Meanwhile over in Gateshead at the Honeysuckle is another authentic pub which features a blues club on Wednesday nights. There is a liberal supply of residents and guests so this week I will just mention Pigmeat, an excellent acoustic band covering a variety of styles and featuring washboard, kazoo, a huge fat acoustic bass guitar (they tell me the instrument originated in Mexican bands), bottleneck played on a demonic bright-red metal-bodied guitar with an acoustic resonator, harmonica, and a variety of guitar styles. Jim plays the red one which is how he gets that Mississippi Robert Johnson tone for bottleneck. He also plays a 1930s jazz-ragtime style a la Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, and perhaps more familiarly, Mike Cooper. You know, sort of ooh mama it's tight like that beedle um bum. He's got an unusual tenor voice and is totally natural and familiar with blues and jazzy numbers. He has a good time and sometimes shuts up completely and plays washboard with brushes, so the guy must have some humility.

Ray is a more intense character with a more dramatic emotive style, he plays a dramatic black guitar as well. His voice is darker textured and menacing and more 'gutbucket' than Jim. He sounds more like (say) Big Joe Williams than Jim who sounds like he's entertaining in a honkey-tonk.

The combination of "Hear me talking to ya, ya bastards" and "Let's have a good time, folks" works very well and is ably supported by Les on acoustic bass guitar and guitar, who holds the whole thing together as an integral and groovy little band. Well, I've run out of space, so that's awl, folks.

(Mike Maurice)