A tribute to the music soundtracking Sunderland through the years

The Toy Dolls.
The Toy Dolls.

From former favourites to current hits – historians Ray Dobson and Trevor Thorne have written a new book about Sunderland’s music.

The part history/ part homage is titled Music In Sunderland and is now on sale at £9.99.

The cover of the book.

The cover of the book.

It concentrates on those who came from the city and its immediate surroundings including Dave Stewart, Brian Ferry and Alan Price.

There’s reference to great musicians such as Don Airey, Mick Grabham and Nigel Olsson and other artists who had varying degrees of success.

The book opens in 1952 when the New Musical Express issued its first record chart, the vinyl 45rmp came out replacing the 78rmp and the Dansette Record player made its first appearance.

Trevor, a member of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, said: “It is part a history book, part homage to our heroes. These are the bands and musicians who have shaped the city’s music.”

It is part a history book, part homage to our heroes. These are the bands and musicians who have shaped the city’s music.

Trevor Thorne

He added: “Ray and myself recently edited the 2018 Antiquarian journal (a collection of history articles about Sunderland). During the process we found a mutual interest in pop, rock, folk and blues music. The idea for the book

came from Ray’s wife, Sue, who also suggested the title, which adapts a 70s Al Stewart album title.”

The book covers Skiffle, Rock and roll, Punk, The Beatles, Dance, Heavy Metal and each decade such as the 70s,80s and 90s. Managers, record producers and guitar makers are also included.

Dave Stewart’s early history is included such as a look at his previous ‘bands’ one of which was Longdancer – a Sunderland based folk-rock band that grew out of a duo featuring Brian Harrison and Dave Stewart.

An early view of Longdancer.

An early view of Longdancer.

The two were regulars in the many folk- clubs that existed in the town at that time, as well as playing support gigs and occasional festivals (including the Hart Rock Festival at Hartlepool Football Club).

They recorded one EP at Sunderland’s Multichord Studio.

The duo became a four piece with the addition of Kai Olsson and Steve Sproxton under the name Longdancer.

In 1973 they were signed to Elton John’s new label, Rocket Records, with whom they made two albums - If it was so Simple (1973) and Trailer for a Good Life (1974).

During early 1973 the band toured as support for Elton John. Their second album saw changes in both personnel and style when Kai left to be replaced by Matt Irving on keyboards and Charlie Smith on drums.

The band also released two singles and despite the fact that neither troubled the charts to any extent, they did at least have the distinction of recording the first single to be released on Elton’s Rocket label (If

it was so Simple/Silent Emotions in September 1973).

The book also refers to local punk bands The Toy Dolls and The Angelic Upstarts. Although from South Shields the Upstarts were big part of Sunderland’s music scene at the time.

The Toy Dolls are still led by Michael Agar known as ‘Olga’. Accepted as one of the world’s fastest guitar players, the band is best known for its highly individual version of the old song Nellie the Elephant (No 1 in the Indie chart in 1982).

Other songs like She goes to Finos, The Ashbrooke Launderette and Fisticuffs in Frederick Street gave a local twist to the bands output.

The original members were Pete ‘Zulu’ Robson (vocals), Olga (guitar), Colin Scott (drums) and Flip Dougdale (bass). The years have seen numerous line- up changes since then.

The book also tells of a time in May 1952 when two of the Sunderland Echo’s reporters and a sketch artist ventured to the Grange Hotel on Newcastle Road where the Sunderland Rhythm Club met.

Trevor said: “The Echo reporters were obviously tongue-in-cheek telling the story of their night out, accepting they were ‘getting too old for that type of thing’.

These brave reporters summed up the music as: “Having a regular drum beat with the biting notes of a trumpet, the smoother tones of a clarinet and the rippling grace of the piano.”

The sketch artist drew cartoons (left) of the average participant and described the fashion styles that went with it.

The book can be purchased at Waterstones, Clay’s Nursery, Hot Rats and Pop Recs both in Stockton Road, price £9.99.