Lindisfarne Concert Review
Opera House, Newcastle - Saturday, 1st November 2003
by Derek Walmsley, photos by Charles Orr & Mike Clayton
"It’s been a great, great adventure"
It was like Convention weekend again as friends from all over the country and overseas converged on Newcastle for the final concert. Few knew how significant 1st November was to become when they booked their tickets weeks or months ago. As my train arrived in Newcastle on the Friday afternoon and I entered the City I’d visited so many times through the band, I felt a lump in my throat. I walked to the Youth Hostel in Jesmond where Mike C, Charles and Peter were also staying and we soon hit the Metro into Toon.
The Happy Cats’ Halloween Ball that night in the Tyneside Irish Centre got us in the spirit [see photo below], Marty Craggs’ trio playing “Driftin’ Through”, “All Fall Down” and “Meet Me On The Corner”. Wishing Lindisfarne all the best, this set also included material from their “Follow The Moon” album plus songs as wide-ranging as “When The Boat Comes In”, Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco” and Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”. The party proved an entertaining and relaxing start to a music-packed weekend as we renewed old friendships. Mike C even won the children’s charity raffle by correctly guessing the weight of Marty’s pumpkins!
On Saturday morning we visited the Angel of the North and then Tynemouth. In the Playhouse that afternoon, more fans were gathering to hear more music. Young songwriter James Gray performed “Scarecrow Song” among his own material. Launching his own commendable CD, Simma’s set contained nine Lindisfarne related numbers, including “Squire”, “Taking Care Of Business”, “Passing Ghosts”, “We Can Swing Together” and “Train in G Major”. Our American message board friend Kennedy even gave a brief harmonica recital. Meanwhile, at St. James’ Park, Bertil from Sweden heard “Run For Home” and “January Song” being played at half time of the Newcastle v Aston Villa match.
The scene was now set. As darkness fell we headed towards the Opera House and into the Bistro Bar. Familiar faces arrived by the minute. Lindisfarne fans are an amazing bunch of people and I’m only sorry some were missing out. At 7.30 p.m. we entered the impressive auditorium where a capacity 1,100+ were finding their seats, the air of expectancy growing. It was hard to believe this was the last time but the atmospheric venue was certainly fitting. Just after 7.45 p.m. the band appeared to a rapturous welcome, an emotional Billy announcing that this was the worst day of his life- “Alan Shearer missed a penalty!”
Storming into “No Time To Lose”, the richness of the acoustics and the full-tilt performance hinted that this would be a night to remember. “Rocking Chair” followed, Billy adding that this song was one of Jack The Lad’s who “filled in for Lindisfarne last time they split up!” He also advised people to phone their baby-sitters as this would be a long show, then realised we were too old for that! The first half continued to follow the Salford set list I enjoyed the previous Sunday but with still more power and presence. Rod’s solo on “This Guitar Never Lies” positively screamed out and both “Remember Tomorrow” and “This Too Will Pass” took on added poignancy.
After “Freedom Square” and “Ghost In Blue Suede Shoes” came “Lady Eleanor”, a song which has been played in every show and still sounds as fresh and spine-tingling as it did back in 1970. “Under The Promenade” and “Rock’n’Roll Phone” showcased Ian’s and Billy’s own songwriting contributions to the fantastic “Promenade” and “Statues and Liberties” the wonderful legacy of Alan Hull, superbly brought to life by Dave and the band.
The consensus in the interval was that the band was going out on a major high. I tried to tell Radio Newcastle this when a microphone was shoved in front of me!
As the second half drew near, the audience was buzzing. It only took the introduction of “Meet Me On The Corner” for everyone to stand up and heartily join in Rod’s all-time classic. Quite a moment which will be remembered for a long time. Billy’s “Born At The Right Time” met with similar appreciation.
The mood then changed to one of reflection on the contribution to Lindisfarne made by a “fantastic songwriter and a fantastic man”. Dave’s touching tribute to his father-in-law was echoed in his emotional delivery of “Winter Song”, with Ian giving sterling bass support.
Back to humour as Billy related the tale how he had split up from his wife Lorraine on a Tuesday but on the following Friday he’d started going out with Clara the barmaid. The resultant song, “I Can See Clara Now Lorraine Has Gone” was played over the sound system at the end of the night! Billy’s lovely rendition of Rod’s “Neighbourhood” ballad “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong” followed.
In “January Song”, Dave’s haunting delivery of the verses contrasted with the mass sing-along of “You need me, need you, need him, need everyone” which sums up the spirit of Lindisfarne perfectly. After “One Day” came the welcome return of Rod’s early classic “Road To Kingdom Come”. The playing reached fever pitch on a stupendous “Unmarked Car”. We will miss the powerhouse backing to Dave’s hypnotic vocals.
The show then returned to harsh reality. “We’ll be on the dole and sitting on “Jubilee Corner” tomorrow”, said a resigned Billy. In the lyrics of the “Promenade” gem “Unfinished Business”, Billy changed his Homer Simpson tie for a Newcastle United one. A Magpies shirt was then thrown on stage, but Billy said “I can’t wear that- I’m sweating like a pig up here!” Hanging the shirt on the microphone stand, the lads turned in a super-charged version of Rod’s “Whisky Highway” that left us all gasping for more.
With the hall now in rapturous applause, “Run For Home” was something special and I’m sure a few had tears in their eyes. We clapped, waved and sang until we were completely hoarse. Billy pulled on the Newcastle shirt and the lads left the stage to thunderous clapping and stamping. As the emotional strains of “H’Way The Lads” echoed round the Opera House, my mind flashed back to the City Hall and many happy years gone by.
The same thought had obviously crossed Rod’s mind. “It’s like Christmas” he said as the Acoustic trio returned for an indescribably moving “One More Bottle Of Wine”, Dave’s vocal mirroring Alan’s. These were moments to savour as we heard “Fog On The Tyne” played by the band for the last time, Rod’s perfectly-timed balloon-popping puncturing the emotion with humour. A final “Devil Of The North” paved the way for the perfect conclusion- Billy’s dedication to all past members of the band followed by Alan Hull’s inspirational “Clear White Light”. As Dave’s “On your way home” brought the concert to a close, there was a lengthy standing ovation. The lads joined hands and took their bows. It had been a gig to equal the very best in Lindisfarne’s long career and that was some achievement in itself.
“It’s been a great, great adventure” shouted Billy. Indeed it has and we’re all proud to have been part of it. If the DVD has even captured half the performance and atmosphere of the night then we will all have something extra to look forward to.
After the concert, there was major congestion as the band tirelessly signed hundreds of CDs, biographies and tickets and said goodbye to their loyal fans. They’d gone out on a high but then displayed the genuine warmth that has been such an important part of Lindisfarne. As I was waiting to congratulate the band, I was interviewed again, this time by Tyne-Tees television!
Shaking the lads’ hands, there was a shared feeling that the night had been extra special. “Thanks for everything” said Billy as we hugged. Thank you for everything, Billy, Rod, Ray, Dave, Ian and everyone who went before. The Lindisfarne story has paralleled our own lives for more than three decades. We will look to the future but have the memories to treasure forever.
Even after this, the band stayed around to the early hours, drinking with friends and fans from far and wide. Finally, it was time to go. Standing in the cold, wet and windy reality of the taxi queue outside Central Station we felt honoured that we had been there and determined that the spirit will never die. Back at the Youth Hostel in Jesmond, we reflected on an amazing day over hot drinks.
On Sunday morning it all seemed so quiet. Walking down to the quayside, HMS Lindisfarne was symbolically passing under the Millennium Bridge, leaving the Tyne and heading for the North Sea. After visiting the Baltic, we continued east along the north bank as there was another musical treat for us.
Michael Bailey, Rachael Rhoades and Steve Daggett had kindly and conveniently arranged a Steve Daggett Trio gig in “The Tyne” pub. Two or three dozen of the message board regulars soon took over the pub for the afternoon! We enjoyed over 2 hours’ worth of songs including many of Steve’s from the excellent releases “Troubadour Territory” and “Thud, Thwack and Twang”. Rachael’s violin or accordion plus Michael’s electric and upright basses superbly backed guitarist Steve’s distinctive vocals. Slide guitarist Gypsy Dave Smith joined them for the rousing finale.
There were some choice covers including “Lady Eleanor”, “Winter Song” and “All Fall Down”, the first two having atmospheric violin and the latter accordion. Steve’s songwriting talent is well displayed on tributes to Alan Hull (“Mandolin Moon”) and a half-blind Newcastle photographer (“The Ballad of Jimmy Forsyth”). The sheer enjoyment of “Thud, Thwack and Twang”, Mark Knopfler’s “Why Aye Man”, Ray Davies’ “Skin and Bone” and Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” proved a revelation. A must see band and soon Billy was also in the audience!! Thanks for another great gig to round off the weekend. It was dark by the time we made our way back along the riverside for our long journeys home, content that we had seen Lindisfarne go out with a bang.
What a weekend! Words can’t convey how good it was. The warmth of the band members and the dozens of Lindisfarne fans made it feel like a family reunion. It was great to see everyone again and I dare not list the dozens of names in case I miss anyone. One thing for certain- we must do it all again. If band members are reading this, you can try out any of your projects on us- the Lindisfarne web-site will keep us all together!!