Lindisfarne: The Folk Rock Oasis

lindisfarne2So.. I had three albums, admitted one of them was by the Beach Boys but it still made for a good evening in.

At some point though I begun to become more interested in pop and rock music in general this was accelerated by the family’s first colour television and we started watching Top Of The Pops in a budget acid trip kind of way.

One of the first songs that grabbed me was ‘Meet Me on the Corner’ by Lindisfarne. I didn’t realise of course that it was a Geordie ‘Waiting for my Man’ about hanging about for ‘mr dream seller’ I just liked the way it sounded, strummy guitars, a loose rhythm, ragged harmonies and a harmonica that was neither blues or Larry Adler.

Lindisfarne where, like all the bands of the time, firmly rooted in the 60’s. They had been around for years in one form or another but settled on the name Lindisfarne as the in 1968, it probably seemed a good idea at the time but googling their name now tends to bring up pictures of the distinctive castle on Lindisfarne island.

For me though it was all very exotic, Lindisfarne could have been Necker as far as I was concerned. The North East seemed very special place indeed and a hell of a long way from Norwich.

So who were these magical lank haired creatures. Like all the best bands there was something of a shifting power base within Lindisfarne. Alan Hull was usually regarded as the main man. Despite looking like he had just got out of the bath he was the main songwriter and even managed to convince a few of the more gullible among us that he was ‘the new Dylan’.Hull usually played acoustic guitar and piano and would do lead vocals and a special slightly off key harmony which I rather liked.

Also up front though was Ray ‘Jacka’ Jackson. Not only did Jacka play the fantastic harmonica that wowed me on ‘Meet me on the Corner’ he also played mandolin and provided the most dependable vocals, for many of us with his shiny hair and distinctive moustache he was the face of Lindisfarne.

Also up front was Simon Crowe. Following the rule of Simon’s in folk rock (see also Simon Nichol in Fairport) you weren’t quite sure what he did but it was good to have him around. Crowe was a multi instrumentalist who played whatever was needed which meant at times the band had two mandolins playing at the same time which it taking the piss a bit.

Then there was the man I regard as the secret weapon in the band. Rod Clements was a cracking bass player, loose and melodic. He also played all sorts of other instruments most notably the fiddle in the early days of the band (he also played mandolin but had the good taste to keep that at home). He also wrote songs now and again, most notable ‘Meet me on the Corner’ which rather put the shit on Alan Hill’s strawberries.

And last the drummer, also called Ray (Laidlaw) which was another reason to call the other one ‘Jacka’, he was fine really, kept it loose and simple and knew when to shut up. He probably had more time on his hands than the others and took quite a bit of interest in managing the band in more frugal days.

The band got signed to Charisma Records in 1970 which lead to some weird gigs in the early days with label mates Van der Graff Generator, but the get go they had their own sound, folky but not folk, sing along but with half way decent lyrics. Britain was a sucker for this sort of stuff at the time hence the success of Mungo Jerry and McGuinness Flint in the charts. Their first single was Lady Eleanor which the public passed on, quite rightly in my opinion it sounds like Hull had just read an Edgar Allen Poe novel and then wrote a song (which I think he had). The second album however was ‘Fog on the Tyne’ produced by Bob Johnson who had worked with Dylan which of course pointed again to the fact that Hull was the ‘new Dylan’.

lindisfarne-fog-on-the-tyne-gatefold

From what I remember the sleeve showed pictures of the band in the pub, playing, drinking and being general down to earth Geordie good blokes. You can almost smell the beer,fags and body odour coming from the scene (that’s not being rude, even new born babies smelt like that in the 70’s) It wasn’t a pose, sometimes Hulls lyrics were a bit too obviously ‘salt of the earth’ but at least you knew what side he was on.

In Newcastle they were huge of course especially at Xmas time when they could sell out the biggest venues for nights on end with their Xmas shows (which I suspect were their usual shows with extra beer). And this is where I come in.

lindisfarne

My fourth record, was Lindisfarne Live. Its a little bit sad because little did I know this marked the end of the classic Lindisfarne. Things had fallen apart for the band. After ‘Meet me on the Corner’ they re released ‘Lady Eleanor’ which was another hit. Critics were calling them the 70’s Beatles, Jacka recorded the mandolin part on Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, John Peel was their mate (or mucka as I believe they would call him), they had the world at their feet for a few short weeks. The next album was Dingley Dell which critically was a real let down, it sounds Ok to me but at the time we expected more apparently. Inevitably leaving Newcastle started to rob the band of everything that made them so compelling, unsurprisingly by the time they had got as far as Australia they were splitting apart.

Lindisfarne live is a contractual album, put out to please the record company and the fans with very little effort from the band, Its fantastically live with the sound of acoustic instruments crudely amplified its often hard to tell if its a mandolin,a guitar or an electric piano making that noise. Most of side two is taken up with Jacka playing popular tunes on harmonica, and the audience love it !

I loved it too although I had to skip the harmonica song quite frequently which only left 5 tracks on side one and a completely distorted version of Woody Guthries ‘Jackhammer Blues’ running into the grooves of side two . Its since been released with lots of bonus tracks and is basically the whole concert with lots of audience participation and unintelligible announcements from the stage.Its a rather fantastic record of a time and place in a band’s career.

By the time of it’s release Lindisfarne had blown it, They split in two with Hull and Jacka getting to keep the name and the harmonica. The rest formed a more obviously folk rock band ‘Jack the Lad’ who were pretty good in a folk rock way. The new Lindisfarne were OK, easily as good as Sassafras or Snafu or any of the other bands playing a polytechnic near you. Hull released a couple of solo albums which featured some of his old chums.

It didn’t end there though, in fact it didn’t end at all, the band reformed in 1978, I’d moved on a long way by then and was still mildly interested but I was soon appalled ‘Run for Home’ was their comeback single and it was terrible. Like most survivors from pre punk days the band didn’t know how to dress any more, even Si Crowe had had his hair trimmed and wore a bomber jacket, they were fish well out of water. The torture continued as they re recorded ‘Fog on the Tyne’ with Paul Gasgoine and then moved on to cheesy rock and roll covers. Jacka was the first to bail out. Crowe left to run a brewery in Canada which seems a fairly desperate exit plan, unfortunately Hull quit by dying in 1995. This opened the floodgates for anyone who had every played in Lindisfarne, or in fact knew anyone who every played in Lindisfarne to carry one with a variation of the Lindisfarne name and still sell out Newcastle city hall at Xmas.

Its hard to remember just how big Lindisfarne actually were for a while. Just like Oasis they were considered to be the new Beatles which is fairly crazy when the real Beatles had only just split up.
Both bands released two acclaimed albums but fell form grace with the third, and both bands were acclaimed as working class heroes bringing music back to the people.

The main difference is Lindisfarne were actually good

But lets return to happier times. Here they are singing ‘fog on the Tyne’ over a backing track on the Old Grey Whistle Test. Si Cowe’s hair is worth the price of admission alone.

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