Sunderland has a long and rich vein of musical talent and we’re hoping these memories of one particular Wearside band’s early days strike a chord.
They come from Spartan Warrior guitarist Neil Wilkinson, who reflected on his earliest memories of the group which is still very much going strong.
Neil shared his memories in conversation with local film-maker and blogger Gary Wilkinson.
Neil said: “I remember in 1984 things were really looking up for the band, we had a record deal, and the night we were due to record our second album we had a gig in our home town at Sunderland Mayfair.
“The band’s future couldn’t look any brighter. We turned up at the gig, sound-checked, and went backstage to get ready. For stage-wear I used to have these tight red spandex pants, looked good I thought. I remember the intro tape playing while I was standing at the side of the stage waiting to go on.
“The stage bouncer stood next to me, slowly looked me up and down and said ‘what are you playing tonight like?… Swan Lake’ ... ha ha, What can I say ? Totally burned on that one.”
When we gigged during the 80’s it was mainly local bars like The Old 29 in Sunderland and clubs like Newcastle MayfairNeil Wilkinson
Neil’s early influences included watching Queen on the Old Grey Whistle Test, and seeing Rainbow at Newcastle City Hall on the Rising tour.
“It was the first gig I’d been to and it was life changing,” he said.
“Looking back I’ve been into music for as long as I can remember. Even as a toddler I remember just listening to music all the time. When I was about four-years-old I remember going on and on for a drum kit for Christmasmas. I never got the kit but I did get a guitar and I just started messing around on that’.”
His earliest influences were “bands like Sweet. Shortly after my older brother was listening to bands like Black Sabbath, UFO and Van Halen so I started listening to that stuff. In terms of guitar playing, I would have to say that Michael Schenker was my biggest influence, in fact he’s still my favourite guitarist.
“Guitar partnerships also had a huge influence on me with my favourites being KK Downing and Glenn Tipton, and later on, Chris De Garmo and Michael Wilton. In fact Queensryche had a huge influence on me.”
Neil’s first band was with his brother Dave and some friends from school.
“That band only did two gigs,” he said. “One at Bede School in Sunderland and one at a youth club. My next after that was the band I’m still in today, Spartan Warrior. When we gigged during the 80’s it was mainly local bars like The Old 29 in Sunderland and clubs like Newcastle Mayfair. We didn’t really get the chance to play further afield as the band split just as the second album came out.
“Since reforming Spartan Warrior we’ve been playing mostly rock clubs and metal venues plus festivals in mainland Europe and the UK.”
When asked about his experiences of recording, he said: “I started recording in 1983 when we got the chance to put a couple of songs on a compilation called Pure Overkill for Guardian Records in Durham.
“We paid for the studio time and recorded Steel n Chains and Comes As No Surprise. Also on that album are tracks by Tokyo Rose, Millennium, Risk and Incubus.
“I think Spartan Warrior were also on some other compilations, one was a Roadrunner release called Metal Machine and the other was an album I only found out about recently called Hell Has Broken Loose on the Bronze label.
“Between those two albums we’ve featured alongside some great bands like Slayer, Motorhead and Raven.”
You can read all of Gary’s blogs by visiting https://garyalikivi.com
And we will feature more in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, we would love to hear from Wearside Echoes followers about bands they have seen perform. Which was the most memorable and who would you love to see again.
Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org