Fishy stories

Oct 2015 Fishy stories


Fans of North-East legends Lindisfarne may be bemoaning the fact that the band itself never tours these days, content to perform their traditional Christmas Show in Newcastle’s City Hall during the festive season, but – thanks to two former members, the music will be echoing around the theatres of Britain from now to the end of November.

Original drummer Ray Laidlaw and singer/guitarist Billy Mitchell have put together ‘The Lindisfarne Story’, the history of the band, told by the pair, with rarely seen and vintage footage plus acoustic renditions of the bands’ greatest songs.

“The Lindisfarne I was involved in ceased in 2003.” Ray said.
“I’d been in the band 33 years, which is a bloody good run, and after that I produced a lot of charity events around the north-east. We had Paul Weller at one and Jimmy Nail at another and they both wanted to play Lindisfarne songs.”

And why not?

Throughout the seventies, the bands’ special mix of rock, pop and folk resulted in hits like ‘Lady Eleanor’, ‘Fog on the Tyne’ (with and without Paul Gascoigne), ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ and ‘Run For Home’.

“I’d been mates with Billy before the band, and we had worked together a lot since, and we were invited to do a talk at a charity event for a theatre. We did acoustic versions of some of the songs and chatted about the band and the music.

“After two hours we’d only covered a couple of years.

“I then had an idea. I’m the keeper of the bands’ archives and have all the film footage and demos we did. Ray and I then put together a show incorporating the story of the group, the backstory of the songs, images, gossip and the songs themselves.

“We tried it out and it worked.

“I love doing concerts, but this is a nice gentle way for me to ‘get my rocks off’ – as it were.”

There is a lot of humour in the show.

“One of the early stories was when Bob Johnston, a Texan who had produced the likes of Johnny Cash, but never produced anyone outside America, had heard our first album and wanted to produce ‘Fog on the Tyne’.

“Well, he came over and we all had lunch, after which, he went off with his lawyers. Me and the rest of the band went for a pint and thought that he might have changed his mind as he was very quiet.

“It turns out that he was so quiet because he couldn’t understand a word we were saying.”

And then there was the story of the fish on ‘Top of the Pops’.

“People still stop me in the street about that.”

When the band went on ‘Top of the Pops’ to perform ‘Meet Me on the Corner’, Ray appeared to be playing the bass drum with a fish!

“It was too! I did it so people would remember it, as you only had three minutes to make an effect, and it came from the band’s drummer Leavon Helms who, it was once said ‘sounded like he was playing with a couple of herrings’.”

And what does Ray think is Lindisfarne’s legacy?

“Great songs, as simple as that. It was nice having the hits, but we really wanted to be an ‘album’ band, and to be respected as songwriters and musicians.

“What’s also good about the show is that you don’t have to be a fan of the band to enjoy the show – in which we do about 16 or 17 Lindisfarne songs, with a few songs that influenced us – as it’s really the story of a generation.”

The tour has already started.

“We’ve begun, and it’s going brilliant, the people are loving it – in fact I was talking to one guy the other day who’s seen the show four times. It’s something new and different.” Ray added.

‘The Lindisfarne Story’, with Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell, is touring the UK until the end of November.

For more information, visit

Martin Hutchinson