South Tyneside-born musician Howard Baker has performed all over the world during a long and successful career.
As part of the rock group Warbeck, he played a good few gigs here in the North East, some of which didn’t quite go to plan, as he explains in an interview with film-maker and blogger Gary Wilkinson, who kindly shares some of Howard’s memories (gathered during a get-together at The Word) with us today.
Most of the mishaps, explains Howard, involved the group’s sound system and pyrotechnics.
“We had a big monitor system,” he told Gary, “four huge bins we bought off Jethro Tull. First club we played it in was so loud we blew the polystyrene tiles off the ceiling. It took a few gigs to get used to it.
“We had some pyro to put on a bit of a show. We used to put the bombs in two small waste paper bins, but one gig we forgot them so went outside in the back lane and got a big rubbish bin.
“We put both bombs in there and set it up behind the drummer.
“End of the first set, the roadies set it off and a big boom! But they didn’t clean the bin out first so there was rubbish, banana skins, all sorts all over the stage.”
On another occasion the band forgot (it seems to be a recurring problem) to take the smoke flares with them – and so improvised!
“We liked a bit of smoke around the stage so we went out and bought some flares nearby.
“These were for boats, like distress flares.
“Again, they were set up behind the drums and were set off at the end of the set, just as we played Smoke on the Water.
“Well, at first they didn’t look much, but the smoke coming out of them just kept on coming until it filled the concert room.
“Our eyes were streaming, the concert chairman was up in arms, but the worst thing was the smoke was orange.
“There was so much smoke we couldn’t see a thing; they rang the fire brigade who eventually found the bin and hoyed it outside.
“The concert room was covered in orange stains, all over the chairs, everywhere, and we ended up not getting paid, but presented with a massive cleaning bill.”
Despite being a rock act, Warbeck, much to Howard’s amusement, once found themselves supporting a pop icon – Alvin Stardust.
“The best laugh we had,” he says, “was doing the City Hall with Alvin Stardust – and it was the craziest line-up ever.
“We were a full-on rock band supporting the pop star.
“His single, out at the time, was My Coo Ca Choo.
“Anyway, we were in the dressing room while 2,000 kids were screaming outside wanting Alvin.
“We were worried but he came up to us and said ‘just do your show lads, and don’t worry, the fans are screaming so loud they can’t hear what you’re playing anyway’.
“Afterwards he came back to us and said ‘that was brilliant lads’. Then I watched him, and the way he controlled the whole show was completely different from us, we were heads-down rock, you know. I must admit he was really good, a great showman.”
On a more serious note, Howard also recalls playing with some of the biggest rocks bands of all times, including AC/DC and Whitesnake.
“Around 1978 Warbeck travelled down to London in our own transit van to support AC/DC at the Marquee. Bon Scott was as thin as a rake then and Angus was just a tiny fella but you could just tell they had something about them – a great sound with a solid rhythm section for Angus to play with. They had a real presence.
“We also supported Whitesnake up at Ashington. I remember it was a November, absolutely freezing and the place was chocka block. Our dressing room was tiny with a little radiator and Coverdale’s room was all soft chairs, heaters ... and lobster thermadore.”
You know what they say – rank hath privilege!
You can read all of Gary’s blogs at https://garyalikivi.com/