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Review: The Lindisfarne Story at Newcastle City Hall

One of my first memories relates to Lindisfarne – and I’m not talking about Holy Island

The Lindisfarne Story at Newcastle City Hall
The Lindisfarne Story at Newcastle City Hall

One of my first memories relates to Lindisfarne – and I’m not talking about Holy Island.

I am, of course referring to the popular folk/rock band who stitched themselves into the cultural quilt of the North East from 1970 when they introduced themselves, to 2003 when they took their final bow.

Having been taken to one of their legendary late-1970s Christmas concerts at Newcastle City Hall when I was three – by parents who were friends and fans of the band in equal measure – towards the end of the gig, I found myself at the front and centre of proceedings.

My dad had been invited on stage to sing a verse of their crowd-pleasing anthem, We Can Swing Together – which recounts an “eventful” Jesmond get-together – and promptly decided he would take me on as his pint-sized security blanket.

Truth be told, one look at the sell-out crowd had me burying my head so deep into his shoulder that you can still see the dent if the light is right. But, 34 years later, it’s a memory I wouldn’t swap.

So I was excited about The Lindisfarne Story, which was performed on the band’s City Hall stomping ground as part of the Festival of the North East on Saturday night.

The show was devised, written and performed by founding drummer Ray Laidlaw and closing lead singer Billy Mitchell, who replaced the late, and songwriting great, Alan Hull after his untimely death in 1995 at 50. They were backed by Billy’s own band, featuring son Tom, and also joined byan old friend in the form of fellow Lindisfarne founder, Rod Clements.

It was a concert of two distinct but equally pleasing halves.

The first saw Ray and Billy recount the opening chapter to the band’s story – how the first lineup of Ray, Rod, Simon Cowe, Ray Jackson and Alan found each other and made the music which would last a lifetime and top the charts to boot.

Anecdotes, told with suitable sprinkles of comedy and affection, were complemented by nostalgic video clips and photographs and punctuated with simple acoustic performances. A performance of one of Alan’s many masterpieces, Winter Song, was particularly lovely. Meanwhile, the loudly applauded onstage arrival of the Ivor Novello-winning Rod resulted in a collection of Lindisfarne songs which bear his writing credit. We found out about how the band would eagerly await the departure of “posh” Rod’s parents to their Spanish getaway home. “As they left the front door, we would move in for the summer via the back one,” Ray laughed.

We discovered that Billy, who helped out with singing duties before Alan and Ray Jackson, actually turned down the chance of joining Linidsfarne in the late Sixties – convinced his current band, Model T, were going places.

And then we heard about the arrival of US producer Bob Johnson into the mix, who Ray credited with the band’s meteoric rise to the top of the charts with their second album, Fog on the Tyne.

And so we came to the end of the storytelling. Of course there were 30-odd years still to go on the journey. But delving into the many comings and goings of the Lindisfarne lineup and the production of a bursting back catalogue would be for another night. This crowd needed to hear some music.

As billed, the band played straight through the number one Lindisfarne album, Fog On The Tyne, in sequence.

Having mostly accessed Linidsfarne’s music via greatest hits and live compilations, I’m ashamed to say I was unsure of what tracks to expect – aside from the anthemic title song, of course, which got the band banned by the BBC for daring to use the words “wee wee”.

“I wonder what Jimmy Saville was doing then...” Billy wondered.

It turned out to be the musical equivalent of a raffle where every ticket is a winner.

Meet Me On The Corner, Uncle Sam, Passing Ghosts, Train in G Major... I could go on. Must say though, that Tom Mitchell’s rendition of January Song was a set stealer.

Once we’d established the Fog On the Tyne was indeed mine, all mine, the band left for as long as it took to get a pint – returning for a set list ticking more than our fair share of favourites.

No Time To Lose, We Can Swing Together (it’s just as well my dad wasn’t asked up for that this time around... I’ve grown a little since last time), Run For Home, Marshall Riley’s Army and Clear White Light were among many highlights.

Oh dear, will you look at this. Just like the show did on Saturday, I seem to have overrun somewhat. Take it as a sign of my thorough enjoyment. If they do it again, don’t miss it.

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