We continue our more in-depth reminiscing over the great records of 1971 with a look at the album from Lindisfarne that brought Geordie culture to the world.
Well – we’re getting close to the end of the year 2021, the golden jubilee year for all those fantastic albums that first saw light of day in that magical year of 1971. At The Barrier has already shared our deep nostalgia for rock music’s annus mirablis by bringing you reappraisals of several of our favourite 1971 albums – Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, Cat Stevens’ Teaser and the Firecat, Fairport’s Babbacombe Lee, T.Rex’s Electric Warrior and Gene Clark’s White Light, to name but a few. We now turn our focus onto Lindisfarne and their seminal Fog On The Tyne album, an album that ensured we would never view the city of Newcastle Upon Tyne, its inhabitants and its customs and traditions in quite the same way, ever again.
I’ve probably mentioned this before, but, as 1971 dawned, I was 15 years old. My musical horizons were expanding, but still fairly limited, with a menu that consisted mainly of Hendrix and ELP, with a few side-dishes like Family, Edgar Broughton, Black Sabbath, Steppenwolf and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Even the mythical Led Zeppelin hadn’t yet made their presence felt, although, inevitably, they would do. The sheer volume of quality music that burst forth in 1971, coupled with a music press (my personal journal of choice was Melody Maker, although Sounds and NME were also pretty ubiquitous) that covered the widest possible range of musical styles without passing negative judgement, made it easy to discover and access exciting new sounds and, as the year wore on, bands and artists like Leonard Cohen, Pink Floyd, The Groundhogs, The Doors and James Taylor entered my consciousness and my record collection.
I’d heard talk of Lindisfarne. Their debut album, Nicely Out Of Tune hit the racks in late 1970 and garnered positive reviews in the music press. The positive comments, including reviews of the band’s regular festival appearances, and the descriptions of Lindisfarne’s particular brand of good-time folk-rock, played using predominantly acoustic instruments certainly caught my interest, but, as of mid 1971, I had yet to hear what the growing fuss was all about. That changed in October 1971, when Fog On The Tyne and its lead single, Meet Me On The Corner, burst forth and, for a few short months, Lindisfarne could do no wrong.
It’s difficult, from this distance, to appreciate the impact that Fog On The Tyne had upon the musical awareness of the nation and upon the image of the band’s home city. I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much when I suggest that Fog on the Tyne did for Geordie culture what Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields did for Liverpool. Of course, along with Merseyside, Tyneside has one of this nation’s strongest regional identities – a mighty river, crossed by (in 1971) five iconic bridges, a memorable skyline and an accent that is as endearing as it is indecipherable. The city is (or was) the home of Newcastle Brown Ale, the beverage that, back in 1971 was compulsory drinking if you were young, male and hairy, and that’s before we get to the football team with Wyn Davies, Bobby Moncur and ‘Pop’ Robson in their iconic (that word again…) black and white stripes and a following that, alongside the ubiquitous skinheads, also included just as many hirsute quasi-hippies in loon pants and stack-heeled boots. With Fog On The Tyne, Lindisfarne turned that imagery into a national obsession.
And that obsession remains with us. Newcastle Brown Ale may now be made in The Netherlands, and, thanks to the intervention of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his puppets and his money, Newcastle United may be just about to ruin professional football for good, but the magic of Newcastle remains. There are now seven iconic Tyne bridges, the city is an enduring regional, national and international destination and Viz Comic has taught us all to speak and understand Geordie – and whilst that’s obviously not all down to Fog on the Tyne, this was the album that first awoke so many us to the possibilities and pleasures of the region. And to cap it all, Lindisfarne’s indisputable contribution to the city’s culture has been recognised by way of a commemorative plaque outside the magnificent Newcastle City Hall to mark the band’s incredible 120 appearances at the venue.
Lindisfarne emerged from the vibrant Tyneside folk and rock scene in 1968, when local singer-songwriter Alan Hull joined the band variously known as The Downtown Faction and Brethren. The band’s first lineup; Rod Clements on bass and violin, Ray Jackson on vocals, mandolin and harmonica, Simon Cowe on guitar, mandolin, banjo and keyboards, Alan Hull on vocals, guitar and keyboards and Ray Laidlaw on drums is indisputably their classic one. It was in this form that Lindisfarne were signed by Tony Stratton-Smith to his nascent Charisma label in 1970, shortly after which, that debut album appeared. Nicely Out Of Tune is now considered to be a classic album in its own right – some consider it to be Lindisfarne’s best – and, with tracks like Lady Eleanor, Clear White Light, Turn A Deaf Ear, We Can Swing Together and, perhaps best of all, the majestic Winter Song (described by long-time Lindisfarne associate Rab Noakes as “The best song ever written”), they may have a point, but, at the time, the album’s release passed without a great deal of notice and it certainly didn’t manage to capture the zeitgeist in the way that its successor did. Be that as it may, it’s plain to see that the pieces for something special were all in place, including great tunes, thoughtful lyrics that were thoroughly in tune with the concerns of the time, all played by a bunch of skilled musicians in an enjoyable, easy-going style.
In Alan Hull particularly, Lindisfarne had a songwriter of supreme ability. Even before he joined Lindisfarne, Hull had accumulated a vast archive of compositions, many of which made it onto the first three Lindisfarne albums and onto his 1973 debut solo album, Pipedream. A recent BBC documentary (which, I’m sure, was compulsory viewing to many At The Barrier readers) compiled generous tributes to Alan’s talent from Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Mark Knopfler, Sting, Jimmy Nail and Rachel Unthank. Sting even went so far as to call Alan “Our Bob Dylan.” Alan’s pre-band experience of working as a nurse in a Newcastle psychiatric hospital gave him a vivid insight to human frailties which informed much of his writing and his songs were the mainstay of each of Lindisfarne’s classic albums.
When Fog On The Tyne did emerge, I loved it from the very start. It almost goes without saying that the music was a revelation – and I’ll go into that shortly – but I loved everything about the package it came in. I loved that cover illustration – an etching of a Tyne riverside scene from, I’d guess, the mid-nineteenth century; I loved the photographs inside the gatefold that showed the band looning about on a misty Lindisfarne island and enjoying a music session in a pub I was once told was in the village of Seahouses (feel free to let us know if you know otherwise…). I even loved the soft, textured cardboard that made the cover feel special and distinguished Fog On The Tyne from all the other albums in my collection. And I played it, and played it, and played it.
We’ve all experienced the overfamiliarity that repeated plays of a well-loved album can cause, and I have to admit that I expected Fog On The Tyne to be a victim of such“Dark Side Of The Moon” syndrome and, as I settled down to revisit it, I did wonder whether it was necessary for me ever to hear the album again. Well, happily, the songs on Fog on the Tyne still sound good today and, now that much of the political and societal progress of the past 50 years has been successfully reversed by those who know best, the subject matter of many of the songs – class differences, the futility of war, loneliness, desperation and pleasure in adversity still resonate strongly. But, before we go on, let’s deal with that elephant that came into the room in 1990…
Fog On The Tyne, the album’s title track is an excellent song that expresses, with humour and camaraderie, the sheer pride of belonging to a great city. It made us all want to be Geordies, and whenever we attended a Lindisfarne show and sang along, for those fleeting few minutes, we were – in a sort of surrogate way. There’s no doubt that the song became an unofficial Geordie national anthem and, despite all the cynicism that has been expressed over the years, I believe that the 1971 original version of the song is strong enough to withstand the general revulsion to the 1990 Gazza-fied aberration. We may ask what possessed Lindisfarne, and Alan Hull in particular, to participate in such a crass cash-in of Gazza’s fleeting popularity, but, at the end of the day, I suppose we’ve all got pay our gas bills.
So let’s forget Gazza, and have a look at the delights of a milestone album.
Meet Me On The Corner gets Fog On The Tyne underway. A wonderful, bouncy, life-enhancing song from Rod Clements, with a brilliant vocal and harmonica part from Ray Jackson. It’s a song that everyone loves despite the enigmatic lyric that possibly alludes to a street-corner drug deal going down. I’ll never forget Lindisfarne’s first Top Of The Pops appearance when Ray Laidlaw mimed the drum part by pretending to hit a huge bass drum with a rubber fish. Alright On The Night is another favourite, with a lyric that gave the young me the confidence to be myself, dress however I wanted to, and to disregard any expressions of distaste that those older and less tolerant might air.
Simon Cowe’s Uncle Sam is the album’s obligatory anti-war song, expressing the insecurities felt by a young generation faced with the likelihood of military conscription before we get to the album’s happiest song – and possibly one of the most carefree songs ever written – Rab Noakes’s Together Forever. Together Forever is a song that I continue to love, and I’ve often placed myself in the place of the carefree couple, sitting at the front of the bus, sitting on a park bench, or trying to hitch a ride, and just watching the world go by in front of their eyes, without feeling compelled to rush along with it. It’s just timeless and so joyful.
Alan Hull’s January Song was the closing track on side one of the original vinyl album. Quite a counterpoint to the sheer joy of Together Forever, Alan expresses bleak despair as he stares at himself in a mirror and contemplates the direction in which his life is heading. It’s sad, but it’s also a song that offers hope as the writer realises that the help of others is a hand – as expressed in the “You need me, need you, need him, need everyone” refrain.
Side two of Fog on the Tyne gets underway with the majestic Peter Brophy Don’t Care, an enigmatic piece of self-reflection from Alan. The song’s lyrics are highly illustrative, starting with the vision of the man with his nose in his pipe which Alan, of course, adopted as the sleeve illustration for his debut solo album, Pipe Dream. I’ve always felt that Alan Hull was at his his best when he wrote reflectively and in City Song and Passing Ghosts, the next songs in the album’s running order, he does just that. Apparently, Alan had a huge stock of songs that he’d written before he joined Lindisfarne and both of these are classics from that particular stockroom.
Rod Clements’ bluesy Train In G Major expresses a similar sentiment to Alright On The Night – an acceptance that it’s OK to be an outsider – before we get to that refreshing, amusing, albeit now controversial, title track. How it made me long to visit a sleazy snack bar and suck on a sickly sausage roll, and how we giggled at the schoolboy smut of having a wee-wee on the wall… But it all came right in the end as we, again, ignored the attitudes of those who weren’t like us and “Had a pint or two together and did our thing.” My sixteen-year-old self took note of this and used it to shape a lifestyle and outlook that I follow to this day.
Fog On The Tyne was phenomenally successful. it made number one in the UK albums chart and, although released in late 1971, it became the UK’s biggest selling album of 1972. For a short while, Lindisfarne were the biggest thing going and Fog On The Tyne was popular across a wide demographic, not just with those of us who aspired to be hippies. It couldn’t last, and it didn’t. The follow up album, 1972’s Dingly Dell failed to capitalise on the success of Fog on the Tyne, although, personally, it’s an album I’ve always enjoyed. The critical reception was muted in comparison to the euphoria heaped upon Fog on the Tyne and the two singles extracted from the album, All Fall Down and Court In The Act both performed poorly. In early 1973, the original line-up of Lindisfarne sundered and, whilst the band have continued to exist, albeit sometimes sporadically, and for many years were almost sacred property in their home city of Newcastle, they never managed to recreate the magic of Fog On The Tyne – so let’s leave the story there and celebrate a fantastic, memorable, influential and culture-defining album.
For myself, I was never quite the same after Fog On The Tyne. I still liked a bit of bombast – I still do – but Fog On The Tyne opened my eyes to the pleasure that can be derived from softer, acoustic music that has sheer enjoyment as its main objective and, when just a few months after my Fog On The Tyne epiphany, my bass guitar tutor got me to listen to Ashley Hutchings‘ Morris On, an album that truly and permanently shifted my musical axis, he was pushing at a door that was already half-open. All thanks to Fog On The Tyne.
Watch Lindisfarne perform Meet Me On The Corner, the opening track to Fog On The Tyne, from a 1971 Old Grey Whistle Test appearance here: