When South Shields had a ‘thriving” rock scene

Crippling Jack, with  Iain Cunningham on the far right of the picture taken by Gary Wilkinson in 1996.
Crippling Jack, with Iain Cunningham on the far right of the picture taken by Gary Wilkinson in 1996.

When it comes to the history of South Tyneside rock groups, one man is well and truly tuned into “who was who” and the music they produced.

He is film-maker and blogger Gary Wilkinson.

Now Gary, who has completed almost 200 blog interviews since 2017, has kindly allowed us to listen into the stories and thoughts of some of the musicians he has spent time with over the last two years.

He starts by sharing with us an interview he did with Iain Cunningham who was the bass player with Crippling Jack.

Today, Iain can be seen treading the boards as an actor at The Customs House.

Here, he tells of a time when the music scene in South Shields was “thriving”.

“The 90s was a great time for music,” Iain recalls.

“In sunny South Shields by the sea the original music scene was thriving.

“There were original bands, with lots of venues willing to give them a stage to hone their craft.

“Whether it be a Sunday night in the Ferry Tavern or a Wednesday night spent in Porters or The Vic on a Monday night downstairs and Saturday night upstairs, there was always somewhere to watch original music.

“It felt very much like a community, and I’m surprised none of the bands actually cracked it and broke through to the mainstream.

“It was a great scene to be part of.

“The nights had great crowds, a cracking atmosphere and cheap beer promotions, which usually led to hangovers and regret.

“Crippling Jack were formed in 1995 by Ian Maxwell, Dean Walsh, who was later replaced by Paul Westgate, Richard Gardner, Christopher Charlton and myself.

“We went on to play all over the North East and recorded our demo John Woo E.Q. in the Underfoot studios with Dave and Pete Brewis, who themselves, are enjoying a great career in music with their band Field Music.

“Actually Crippling Jack reformed in 2009 and went on to play more gigs around the town, releasing two more EPs. After nine years apart, vocalist Ian Maxwell summed up the bands feelings as he stepped up to the mic and declared – “It’s good to be back!”

Another of Gary’s interviews involved Kev Charlton, who is now known for being a member of North East rockabilly band Bessie and the Zinc Buckets, but who, in the early 1980s, played bass for heavy metal band Hellanbach.

What were those early days like?

“We called our first band Oblisque,” Kev told Gary in one of his early interviews, “and arranged a gig at Talbot Road Youth Club in South Shields.

“The word got round especially with the kids in the youth club, and it was like, ‘wow they are in a band’.

“The gig went well but that band fizzled out, it didn’t get out of first gear, but it turned into a band that changed my life, that was Hellanbach.

“We started rehearsing, then had our first gig at St Hilda’s Youth Club.

“We started getting everything together, rehearsals, flyers, everything was going ok, until it got to the night of the gig and there was a queue all the way around the market it looked to us.

“Then the nerves kicked in, but when we started playing I knew we had something. I can’t put my finger on it but it was something special and drove a lot of people crazy. Basically I got hooked from then, it’s something that’s in yer blood, yer can’t give it up. I can’t get enough of it.”

In 1980 Hellanbach recorded a four track EP for Guardian Records which led to a deal with NEAT Records which resulted in their first album, Now Hear This, something that was “the best time”.

But despite the early promise, it wasn’t to be, as Kev goes on to explain.

“‘In 1984 we recorded another album, The Big H, which I’m immensely proud of. But looking back I’m so disappointed that we didn’t gig enough and we listened to the wrong people. It all fell to bits. We should have been touring the States but instead I went back to the shipyards.”

Even so Kev is “ still playing, making a living and having a great time.”

And that can’t be bad!

You can read all of Gary’s blogs at https://garyalikivi.com/