The Geordie boy band who proved their mettle

These days Geordie are better known as being the former band of AC/DC singer Brian Johnson.

These days Geordie are better known as being the former band of AC/DC singer Brian Johnson. But in the 1970s they were a big rock band with a loyal following. Hannah Davies takes a look back.

Geordie was formed from a bunch of North-East lads whose common link was an abiding love of rock music.

Singer Brian Johnson was born in North Shields on October 5, 1947. A natural performer as a child, he took part in shows with the Boy Scouts and joined a church choir.

But when he was in his teens he developed his taste for heavy music and together with his friends - guitarist Vic Malcolm from South Shields and bassist Tom Hill and drummer Brian Gibson, both from Gateshead - formed a band called USA.

In March 1972, USA went to London to sign a contract with the Red Bus Organisation. Three months later, they released their first single, Don't Do That, under the new name of Geordie.

On September 28, 1972, a report in The Journal followed their local success. "They were playing in ballrooms and social clubs following their formation," it read, and it went on to declare excitedly that they were now playing universities and big clubs across the country.

This included a return by Geordie - in a red route master London bus covered in the band's posters - to Tyneside for a date at Newcastle University.

Don't Do That crept into the charts on the Regal Zonophone label, reached Number 32 in January 1973 and caused sufficient interest for the band to be signed by major label EMI.

Their first album with EMI was called Hope You Like It and through it they secured a Top 10 hit, All Because Of You, which reached number six in the UK chart in April 1973.

The group also enjoyed hits that year with Can You Do It and Electric Lady, while Black Cat Woman did well in Europe in 1974.

During their Antipodean tour in March 1974, the band decided as a gesture of goodwill to take some books about Tyneside and a crate of Newcastle Brown Ale to Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. There were plenty beer-drinking Aussies who appreciated the gesture.

It was then back to the North-East and April 1974 saw the band, who were going from strength to strength with a number one record in Japan and a European gold disc, play a triumphal homecoming gig at Newcastle City Hall.

This also tied in with the wedding of guitarist Vic Malcolm to girlfriend Cecilie D'Ambrosie - who inspired him to write the band's hit Electric Lady - at St Bede's Church in South Shields. The happy couple spent two days together for their honeymoon at Vic's new luxury £14,000 house in Temple Park, South Shields, before he hit the road again for a UK tour.

For three years the band were constantly in the charts. Geordie further developed a powerful style on their next album, Don't Be Fooled By The Name, released also in 1974.

The band remained a popular touring attraction throughout the early to mid-1970s, but then came the rise of punk and the New Wave. Bands like Geordie were left floundering. With work hard to come by, Brian Johnson found himself doing voice-overs for a vacuum cleaner TV commercial.

The group broke up in 1976 but, a few months later, Johnson reformed it with members Geordie Defty, Dave Ditchburn and Alan Clark and, in 1980, released the album Featuring Brian Johnson, which had re-workings of Geordie songs. Despite this, Johnson claimed the music was completely different to the group's earlier songs.

Still, Johnson made sure he didn't keep all of his eggs in the same basket and also ran a vinyl car roofing business.

It was just after Geordie had signed a deal with Red Bus Records in London that AC/DC approached Johnson for an audition, following the death of their lead singer, Bon Scott.

Johnson got the job by singing the Ike and Tina Turner song Nutbush City Limits, and AC/DC's own Whole Lotta Rosie which was performed in 1977 with Scott.

Johnson was the band's first choice. Unknown to him, a fan in Cleveland, Ohio, had sent a Geordie album to AC/DC shortly after Scott's death, urging them to consider him.

And, years earlier, Scott himself had also praised Johnson's singing to the rest of AC/DC after seeing Geordie play. According to legend, this was the night Johnson was rushed to hospital after the show to have his appendix removed - which accounted for his writhing around on the stage.

Johnson's marriage, which produced two children, ended in divorce shortly before he joined AC/DC. Geordie decided to carry on when Johnson left and recruited singer Terry Slesser as his replacement.

Johnson's first album with AC/DC, Back in Black, is now regarded as a landmark in rock recordings and cemented Brian's position in the group. He helped to push the band into a more heavy metal direction and the album went on to be the fifth best-selling ever.

But Brian never forgot Geordie and, despite living in Florida, he still makes regular trips back to the North-East to visit his two grown-up daughters.

* Did you play in a North band? What are your memories of bands in the 50s, 60s and 70s? Contact Hannah Davies on (0191) 204-3309 or email hannah.davies@ncjmedia.co.uk

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