Legendary Lindisfarne vocalist, mandolin and harmonica player Ray Jackson talks about his time in the band.
How did you meet the others who made up the original Lindisfarne?
I was in a band called the Autumn States early on in my art school days in the mid 60s. On Tyneside at that time, there were a host of bands employed by various venues where there would be several bands playing on the same night. At one of these venues Autumn States met Downtown Faction. Rod Clements, Simon Cowe and Ray Laidlaw were part of that band. There was a mutual appreciation of the music we played, mainly blues and soul. Ray and I were also attending Newcastle Art School on separate courses and went on to become friends through our meetings in the common room as well as on the circuit.
Later I was asked if I would like to join Downtown Faction when their singer decided to leave. My first gig with them was at a free festival in Leases Park, Newcastle. It went down well. We had to abandon some of our blues repertoire as playing rock clubs and dance halls didn’t fit our line up. There was then a flourishing folk club scene in the north east which accepted many forms of music as well as traditional folk songs. At this point we met Alan Hull who ran his own folk club at the Rex Hotel in Whitley Bay and through that the band was born.
What were early days like?
I had just qualified at Newcastle College of Art & Industrial Design art school. Gig money was usually swallowed up with keeping the group van on the road. I had to get a job driving until we got our first advance, and guess what? We ended up buying a bigger van with it. Before we had signed to Charisma records, we had built up a following in the Barnstaple, North Devon area through the then president of Newcastle University students union who hailed from there and was a big fan. He introduced us to a club owner and promoter who became a great supporter of the band and we, played a weekend of gigs for him on several occasions.
You "made it" so to speak pretty quickly; did you know that you were making music that would connect with people on such a mainstream level?
We knew soon after Alan had joined and the wealth of original songs we had at our disposal that we had something that was different. The instrumentation and our approach to performing live was new. One of our first big gigs in Newcastle was The Mayfair Ballroom which was standing room only. Once we had started playing the whole audience sat down on the floor for the entire set. The Mayfair manager commented afterwards that had never seen his audience do that before. Our music was a clean break from what was considered mainstream at the time and the music press had some difficulty in pigeonholing us. We obviously had a strong regional connection which made us different from other bands but it wasn’t until we played our first big open air festival to a 100,000 people which we took by storm, that we realised we could connect on a mainstream level.
Those original albums are true classics, did writing for these albums go smoothly or was it difficult putting together an album of songs?
The songs were mostly written by Alan and Rod with one or two by Simon and with collaboration from all of us. We arranged the songs in rehearsals and then presented them to the record producer who would pick out his favourites to record. Nicely Out of Tune had an abundance of choice from a backlog of songs. Our careers then took off and more time was spent touring. The recording of each album was a uniquely different experience in such studios as Trident and Basing Street.
Which is your favourite of all the Lindisfarne albums if you have one?
It has to be Nicely Out Of Tune, because of the variety of great songs and unusual instrumentation.
Of course the original line up got together again in the late 70s and had a kind of resurgence, what was this period like creatively for you?
The middle to late seventies was when I‘d started a writing partnership with Charlie Harcourt who joined Lindisfarne in the new line up after Ray, Rod, and Si departed to start their own project. Charlie and I had written many songs together between the band folding and it’s reforming. I had released a single for EMI and written music for various TV programmes. When we reformed and it came to choosing songs for Back and Fourth. I was able to present several to the band and the producer Gus Dudgeon for inclusion.
Why did you end up leaving the band in 90?
I had moved to London in 1987 and so became geographically removed from the band’s base in Newcastle. The band by this time had no ties with a major record company and had started releasing albums through independent labels. The funding to finance these was from live performances and the band were now self producing the records as well. Selection of the songs for inclusion, were becoming more and more Alan and Rod’s and my contributions were being continually overlooked. This in effect, gave me less creative input and I felt I was being sidelined to that of a session musician. I also didn’t like the records we were making anymore. Although our Christmas shows and live tours were still doing well, the income was being spent on albums that no one bought. I eventually took a job working in PR to subsidise continuing with the band. Because I lived in London, the band started leaving me out of decision making. They took on a manager, made financial commitments without my consent and made a part time member a permanent one. When I was asked to take part in a record called Fog On the Tyne Revisited with Paul Gascoigne, I had no wish to get involved and thought that this was a desperate measure to regain popularity and would jeopardise the integrity we had gained in the past. I refused to turn up to make the video recording for Top of the Pops and a few days later was asked to leave.
Lindisfarne went their separate ways in 2003, but the influence of the band, especially in the north, is very strong today, with Hull's plaque and the Hull Award for musicians. Why do you think the legacy of the band lives on?
We were a band with a regional identity from an area that in the main was ignored by the rest of Britain. Other bands had come out of Newcastle before and after us but had never made a big thing of their heritage. Fog On The Tyne is used by journalists even now 40 years on when writing articles about the north east. I think because we were proud of where we came from, it has stuck in the minds of people.
What are you most proud of relating to the band?
Our record of selling out Newcastle City Hall for 12 consecutive nights, our 120 nights played there in total, our 57 weeks in the charts with Fog On The Tyne and the great legacy of songs left for posterity.
How do you remember the band and your many adventures with them?
I look back with fondness, particularly to the early days when we were at our most creative and influential. We were a strange gathering of people from different backgrounds but were of the same mind musically and the combination worked. The sharing of new experiences on our travels together across the world helped to make us a close formidable team.
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