A rare insight into legendary Tyneside group Lindisfarne comes to Newport tonight when two time served members of the group, drummer Ray Laidlaw and vocalist Billy Mitchell tell The Lindisfarne Story.
Founder members Alan Hull, Rod Clements, Ray Jackson, Simon Cowe & Ray Laidlaw - exploded onto the UK music scene in 1970 with a string of unforgettable songs including Lady Eleanor, Meet Me on the Corner and Fog on the Tyne quickly establishing the band as the standard-bearers for acoustic-based rock.
“We’ve incorporated acoustic versions of the songs,” Ray Laidlaw tells Andy Howells of The Lindisfarne Story, “because we always wrote songs in that traditional manner. One person always came along with a guitar and played it to everyone else and that’s how it worked. It’s a two hour show, it starts from when we were young teenagers dipping our feet in the water and basically it features lots of our photographs, bits of video, the album sleeves we didn't use that sort of stuff , we tell stories from behind the scenes and people seem to love it.”
Born in Tynemouth, Ray became interested in music from an early age, “Growing up in the 50s and 60s was a good time for music, I had a couple of girl cousins who lived across the road and were obsessed with Elvis Presley. I got into those records when I was 9 or 10, then I got into all the early rock stuff. I was a big fan of The Shadows in the early days, but it was the mechanics of it that I was interested in, the drums, the guitars and how it all fitted in. Then when I was 13, I met someone down the street who had a guitar and that was Simon Cowe who I was in the band with for 40 years, it was an attractive and exciting prospect and there was also the possibility of girls!”
The success of Lindisfarne wasn’t overnight however. “I first met Simon when I was 13 and I was 22 when we had our first hit (Meet Me on the Corner) the band formed around myself, Simon and Rod Clements. It gradually came together over a period of years.”
The band went through several styles of music before settling on their folk- rock style, which brought them to prominence with the best selling albums Fog on the Tyne and Nicely Out Of Tune. “When Fog on the Tyne came out, sales for that album went through the roof,” says Ray, “It was astronomical it was the biggest selling British album of 1972. A bit like Thriller or Tubular Bells it was one of those records everybody had. There used to be a saying in the premiership that Newcastle United was everyone’s second favourite team. If you were into metal music Lindisfarne was everybody’s second favourite band, if you were into Glam music Lindisfarne was everyone’s second favourite band, unless of course you were one of those people who really loved us! “
The bands success also saw Lindisfarne tour America in 1972, “It was the week Fog on the Tyne went to Number One in the UK. I remember waking up in a hotel bedroom, we’d arrived late at night and it was dark in the place. There was a knock on the door and a waiter came in with breakfast. He opened the ceiling to floor curtains that filled one side of the room and we were on about the 28th floor of the Holiday Inn in San Francisco overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. I remember Rod and I saying “not bad for two Geordies having breakfast in bed and this fantastic view!”
There will be further anecdotes when Rod along with Billy Mitchell take to the stage of The Riverfront this evening, “Some of the stuff that happened to us, the adventures were just wonderful ,” says Ray, “there’s a lot of great laughs, a lot of great music and a few tears but that’s what’s life’s about.”
- The Lindisfarne Story plays Newport Riverfront on September 25. Call Newport Riverfront on 01633 656679 for ticket details.
- A version of this interview by Andy Howells appears in The South Wales Argus supplement The Guide on September 25, 2015
- Visit The Lindisfarne Story Official Website