Geordie band Lindisfarne 40 years on - what are they doing now?
Posted: 18 Dec 2010
Fog on the Tyne - 40 years on
It's 40 years since Tyneside folk-rock legends Lindisfarne changed the face of music with their debut album Nicely Out of Tune.
The original band - dubbed the Seventies' Beatles - 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.
Michael Hamilton catches up with the surviving members of the original line-up and finds out what they are up to now.
Ray Jackson has revealed he sadly never made it up with his old pal Alan Hull before he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1995.
It was some five years earlier that Alan had asked Jacka to leave Lindisfarne – around the time the band did Fog on the Tyne Revisited with Geordie soccer star Paul Gascoigne.
Ray had been forced to take a ‘day job’ with a sports marketing agency to ensure a steady income for his family, as band gigs were few and far between in those days.
Disillusioned by the commercial tie-up with Gazza he refused to perform on the promotional video and things came to a head at the launch of the Theakstons’ sponsored Christmas tour of 1990.
Ray says: ‘I could see it coming when Alan asked me to leave the band. I was becoming more and more disillusioned with the fact that we were making albums nobody was buying and I didn’t like the direction the band was heading. I just wasn’t fulfilling myself any more.
‘I was subsidising the band which was mad. I couldn’t justify playing with them any more. If we had stuck to the big Christmas reunion shows I might have perhaps stayed with it.
‘But I decided to call it a day and I never got back up and played with them again until 2005 when we did the Alan Hull Story tribute.
‘I was shocked when Alan died – it was very untimely. I went to his funeral but sadly we weren’t reconciled. We hadn’t spoken for years. It was all very sad.
‘There were lots of things that could have been said but weren’t. I’ve been talking to his wife Pat over the last couple of years and she said he was always very sorry for his attitude towards me at the end of my time with the band.
‘He certainly wanted to make it up, but we never had the chance to. Sadly he died before we could.
‘Alan was a very complex person underneath the persona. He was a great songwriter, very underrated and that probably got on his nerves, knowing Alan.’
Ray, now 62, makes a living as an artist and illustrator and paints terrific pictures of vintage buses – although he has also been playing music festivals this year in England and Europe with his band The Gathering.
He has had a passion for painting buses since he was a teenager on Tyneside – at the same time he was immersing himself in blues and folk music.
‘I was an only child with a sad life,’ he jokes. ‘Seriously, I was always interested in buses as the working man’s form of transport. There was hardly anyone who had a car when I was growing up in Wallsend.
‘We lived in a terraced house overlooking the shipyards and I’ve got a photograph somewhere that my dad took with just one car in the street. It’s amazing how things have moved on.’
Ray, who lives in Oxfordshire these days, says: ‘My favourite North East view has to be Lindisfarne Priory overlooking the Castle. We did the photoshoot for Fog on the Tyne on the island, of course, and had our pictures taken outside the Britannia guest house. I was up there on holiday this summer and my missus said: “You’ve got to have your picture taken there again!”
‘My son still lives up there and my auntie but sadly my parents are not around any more so I don’t get back to the North East as much as I would like – maybe two to three times a year.’
Ray – like the rest of the surviving original members – still has fond memories of when they hit the big time in the Seventies with chart hits like Meet Me on the Corner and Run for Home.
‘I think the music still sounds fresh because of the combination of the instruments with harmonica, violin, guitar and drums. We had some good songs and we were completely different to anybody else at the time. It was all Deep Purple and Cream and heavy stuff.
‘We were in the States when Fog on the Tyne hit number one in 1971. When we got back we had become stars overnight. People were running down the street after us. It was terrifying.
‘The tension got to us and the end result was that the band split in 1973. By 1976 we were back together, though. We’d got everything out of our systems. When we got back together it was like we had never been away. We buried the hatchet on a lot of personal issues.
‘We hadn’t really decided to get back together when we did the Newcastle City Hall Christmas show in 1976 but it was so successful we decided to repeat it the next year.
‘We were offered a recording contract with Phonogram and we recorded our fourth album Back and Fourth which had the hit single Run for Home. It has become an anthem.’
Another highlight for Ray was playing St. James’ Park with Bob Dylan in 1984.
‘We were in awe of Dylan but we never got to meet him. He was surrounded by guards. But we had a great day. The weather was fantastic, we were on the hallowed turf and we went down really well.’
He also made a guest appearance at the biennial Sunday for Sammy charity gig – launched by Tim Healy and Jimmy Nail in 2006.
‘It’s the natural successor to our Lindisfarne Christmas shows. It’s great to come back and stand up for the area and act as ambassadors for the North East. That’s what Lindisfarne did for the area in the Seventies. We were the only thing then you could hang your hat on apart from Newcastle United.
‘I think local people are very proud of anyone who does well for the North East. It’s great the way the Auf Wiedersehen Pet lads – who are all famous now in their own right – come and support it.’
To check out Ray’s amazing paintings
We can swig together
Lindisfarne always had a reputation as a hard-drinking lads’ band – but not content with just supping it, guitarist Si Cowe has learned how to make it!
For the last 17 years he’s been working in the brewery business in Ontario since leaving the group and is now a master brewer.
But for the first 12 months of his new life – after emigrating to Canada in 1993 with his wife Regan and three children – he was commuting back and forth across the Atlantic to play gigs with the band!
‘That was pretty gruelling to say the least. I was physically setting up the business and playing festivals and gigs with the band in England, Europe and Russia. It was a tough year,’ he says.
‘But it was something I always wanted to do all my life since I started drinking at 18. I’ve always been fascinated by how it’s made. In the back of my mind I had always wanted to start up a brewery.
‘So I moved to Canada with my wife, who is from Toronto, and her parents and set up a Youbrewery where people can come and brew their own wine and beer on your premises.’
Unfortunately for Si the government brought out a new tax on YouBreweries and the number dwindled from 200 to around 20 in two years. So he switched from using malt extract and dried yeast to using real grain and live yeast and within a year he won an award for the best beer in Canada.
Then seven years ago after splitting with his wife he started working for Magnotta – which is the third largest winery in Canada, and has a brewery and distillery.
‘I thought I’ve had enough of being self-employed so I joined Magnotta and worked my way through the ranks, then the head brewer left so I got his job and now I’m the boss,’ he says.
In the band’s heyday Si used to arrange brewery trips for the lads and would often do contra-deals on the road with small breweries swapping complimentary tickets for their gigs in exchange for real ale in the dressing room!
Si’s favourite North East watering hole is the legendary Magnesia Bank pub above the Fish Quay in North Shields – dubbed the band’s official HQ because they spent so much time there.
‘I remember this one time setting off on a tour from the Maggie Bank. We were headed down south for our first gig and someone had cleverly arranged a brewery trip to Theakstons’ Brewery. It was the only time in the whole history of the band that the bus left on time – in fact everybody was there half an hour early!’
Keep the faith
Virtuoso guitarist Rod Clements is the only existing original member still working and touring as a full-time professional musician.
Originally the band’s bass player – he also penned their first hit single Meet Me on the Corner which made the top five in 1972 – he has since become a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter.
When Lindisfarne broke up in 1973 he founded Jack the Lad with Ray Laidlaw and Si Cowe before getting back together with Alan and Jacka again in 1976.
He also played bass on Ralph McTell’s No.1 Streets of London and has worked with Bert Jansch, Michael Chapman, Rab Noakes and Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell.
Following Alan Hull’s death in 1995 Rod became the band’s main songwriter who, in partnership with producer and co-writer Nigel Stonier, provided the bulk of material for Lindisfarne’s two last albums – Here Comes The Neighbourhood in 1998 and Promenade in 2002.
The band finally broke up following a concert at Newcastle Opera House in November 2003.
Rod, now 63, has just finished a 50-date tour with acclaimed American country musician Rachel Harrington, which kicked off at the Sage in Gateshead – one of his favourite venues – in the summer.
‘I’ve got very fond memories of the early days touring and recording with Lindisfarne. It was a dream come true for five simple Geordie lads,’ he says.
‘I remember coming back to Newcastle from the States when we were number one and doing an album-signing at Windows in the Arcade and we were mobbed. It lasted a couple of weeks then it was back down to earth with a bump but they were great days.’
Rod, originally from North Shields like Si Cowe and Ray Laidlaw, has lived in Rothbury for the last 34 years.
‘I’m working on a new album now which will be out in the autumn and I’ll be touring with Rachel again in the UK in the spring when she has a new album out too.’
*For tour and record information for Rod
Labour of love
Drummer Ray Laidlaw now works behind the scenes as a film producer with his pal award-winning director Geoff Wonfor.
He produces the biennial Sunday for Sammy charity gigs – set up by Tim Healy and Jimmy Nail ten years ago – in memory of the Auf Wiedersehen Pet actor Sammy Johnson. He also wrote and co-produced the Sir Bobby Robson tribute DVD – A Knight to Remember.
‘I’m not a professional musician any more. I managed the band for about 20 years so it seemed a natural progression to move behind the scenes. I just love getting involved.
‘I started working with Geoff about 1976 when he was at the BBC before he moved to Tyne Tees and was a director for the Channel 4 music show The Tube.
‘I’ve known him since the early Seventies when his wife Andrea was the researcher on one of the early TV documentaries on us called The Other Lindisfarne.
‘We’ve just finished a documentary on the Dingle Film Festival and we do a lot of comedy and music DVDs for Brian Mawson as well as Sunday for Sammy and Teenage Cancer Trust stuff.
‘I still love playing though. It was great to play on Sunday for Sammy this year because I got the chance to play with Mark Knopfler. That was brilliant.
‘It’s quite funny because in the early days before Lindisfarne we had a band called Downtown Faction and our guitarist Jeff Sadler was mates with Mark Knopfler who would come along to rehearsals but didn’t play with us. He was a bit shy in those days. He’s certainly not shy any more!’
Ray, now 62, and wife Lesley live in Tynemouth – he met her in the town Turk’s Head in 1973 and that’s where they married. His musical ability seems to have rubbed off on their two sons. Eldest Jed, 31, is a surf coach but also plays drums while Jack, 26, is doing a music technology degree at Teesside University.
For great archive footage and history of the band and more of the lads' memories of the early days
Pictures courtesy of Ray Laidlaw, Ray Jackson, Rod Clements and Si Cowe
Fog on the Tyne – the famous LP shot of the lads at the Britannia guest house on Holy Island
Jacka recreates the Britannia shot 40 years on
Jacka now works as an artist and illustrator with these superb paintings of historic trolley buses
Jacka playing mandolin with his 2010 band The Gathering
Lindisfarne in their Seventies heyday
Si and Ray Laidlaw share a laugh and a pint
Si has fulfilled his lifetime ambition and now works as a master brewer in Canada
Rod Clements is the only surviving member still working as a full-time professional musician (Picture copyright Ian Thomson)
Rod performing with American country singer Rachel Harrington (Picture copyright Nick Sinclair)
Ray Laidlaw now works in production with his pal, award-winning director Geoff Wonfor
Lindisfarne perform at their beloved Newcastle City Hall in one of the barnstorming Christmas concerts