Published: 24/11/2015 16:15 - Updated: 25/11/2015 10:06

Lindisfarne Story's tunes and tales

Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell of Lindisfarne
Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell of Lindisfarne


by Margaret Chrystall

RAY Laidlaw of Lindisfarne – one of the UK’s legendary 70s rock bands – is remembering appearing on Top Of The Pops slapping a bass drum with a rubber fish.

The folk-prog rock crossover band had formed in 1968. But though their first album had done well, as Ray remembers, the second one – Fog On The Tyne – had a remarkable impact when it came out in 1971 and became the hit of the following year.

"It just did phenomenally well," said Ray. "It took everyone by surprise.

"I think there were a few reasons. One was, we were fresh compared to what ese was going on at the time.

"We’d also had a lot of success that summer at festivals – we’d been booked when we were very small beer,but we’d gone down a storm at every festival. We would take the place apart – so that had raised our profile considerably.

"Then we had the benefit of Bob Dylan’s producer Bob Johnston to produce the album, we got a lot of publicity about that. His expertise meant that we really focused the songs on the album in a way that really made them work.

"So it was a combination of things.

Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell tell The Lindisfarne Story
Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell tell The Lindisfarne Story

"It was timing, it just came at the right time – but we had the songs. We were a songwriting band and the time was just right for a band like that."

For those old enough to remember, their hits included songs such as Lady Eleanor, Meet Me On The Corner, Run For Home and Fog On The Tyne Itself.

And the band had its own way of making an impression, too ...

"With the Top Of The Pops appearance for Fog On The Tyne, we used the fish because we wanted people to remember us!" laughed Ray.

"There’s a bit of a long and involved story about that – involving drink and there are a lot of daft stories with Lindisfarne!

"But it was to do with the drum sound The Band got on their first album, Music From Big Pink.

"We were fantasising about how they got their drum sound.

"In those days, they didn’t have computers or anything and you had to make all the sounds yourself.

"We just had a fantasy that it sounded like they were playing with a couple of herrings because it sounded slappy and lazy.

"Then later on we were doing Top Of The Pops, which was just band after band after band – and the only way to get people to remember you was to do something a bit different!

"All I had to do in that tune was hit the bass drum all the way through it – I thought ‘Well I’ll just hit it with a big fish!’ so I got one from the BBC props department!"

And one of Lindisfarne’s songs was back on the TV just recently in transgender sitcom Boy Meets Girl.

"They used Meet Me On The Corner for the theme tune of that, so we got an invitation to the launch and Billy and I did the song at the end and I got hold of a rubber fish and did it again!"

Billy Mitchell – who had been in the band in the early 70s but returned after the death of singer Alan Hull in 1995 – joins Ray Laidlaw for The Lindisfarne Story, a two-man acoustic show put together in 2012.

The whole band’s lifetime of stories is brought to life by the duo with their personal photos and video footage too included to give a full picture of life in Lindisfarne.

Ray might also tell you why he believes Fog On The Tyne – with its naughty "wee-wee" reference in the lyrics – might have been unofficially banned by the BBC.

But that’s another story ...

The Lindisfarne Story is at Eden Court on Tuesday, November 24.

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