Beer, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan

Dave Woodhall talks to Billy Mitchell, front man with folk rock icons Lindisfarne, about his current tour.


Lindisfarne came along when music was getting far too pretentious. Their folk rock anthems sold in their milions, they toured the world and many years later they even collaborated with fellow Geordie Paul Gascoigne. After forty-odd years in the business there are plenty of tales to tell and longstanding member Billy Mitchell stopped off from circumnavigating the M25 to tell us about The Lindisfarne Story, an evening of drink-tinged, Newcastle-influenced songs and stories he and the band’s original drummer Ray Laidlaw are currently touring the country.

“We tell the story of Lindisfarne before the band, when we started it off as kids right up to the time when the band finished and on to the present day. It’s 45-50 years of songs, stories, photos, videos telling the life of the band in songs. We sing about 16 of the band’s songs, along with others that influenced us to get into music in the first place. It’s basically a 2 ½ hour theatre show.”

A band like Lindisfarne must have a lot of reminiscences to fall back on.

“Aye, they change every night depending on what we can remember. A lot of the songs are standards, all the hits are there but we do change the other songs round to keep ourselves sane. Non-Geordies like it as well; we’re taking the show from the deep south of Exeter and Swansea in west Wales up to Inverness.”

It’s like an old-fashioned, three months on the road, up and down the country rock’n’roll tour.

“It is, that’s exactly what it is except we’re not a rock band any more. The good thing is that we were both in the band so we’re not a tribute or a tribute story, two blokes pretending to be two other blokes.”

You’ve certainly worked with some of the all-time legendary names in music, and given some of them there must have been one hell of a culture clash.

“Yes, Dylan and Santana at St James Park in 1982, and before that on our first American tour we played with the Beach Boys and Frank Zappa. It was a bit different, but it’s all down to the songs, really. That’s what we all had in common.”

And of course, you also worked with Paul Gascoigne.

“He was the best and most famous footballer of his generation. He couldn’t sing, he couldn’t dance and he couldn’t talk very well but he was a lot of fun and he wanted to make a record, so we helped him and we did Fog on the Tyne with him in 1990. A lot of people were a bit brassed off with the band that we did that but it was a bit of fun and it got to number two in the charts so bollocks to them.”

At that time Gascoigne could do whatever he wanted but unfortunately drink took a hold of him, although drinking was pretty intergral to Lindisfarne’s culture as well. I read somewhere that the only time you ever arrived early for anything was a tour of a brewery. How true is that?

“Well, that might have been the case forty years ago but we’re not like that now.”

There is a version of Lindisfarne still performing. What’s your relationship with them like?

“I don’t really know what they’re doing. As far as me and Ray are concerned Lindisfarne have ended, finished in 2003 so there is a band going around under the name but as far as I know they’re not doing any new material, it’s all the old stuff.”

So there’s no chance of a renuion?

“You never say never but it’s very unlikely. The only chance to hear all the songs as they should be played, in the way they were written, is to see our show. Ray and I play them together and the audience is at liberty to join in at any time.”

I’m sure they will, because Lindisfarne are the sort of band who people don’t realise how many great songs they made until you hear them on the radio.

“That’s right. There so many who don’t realise they know the songs until they start hearing them, and then it all starts flooding back.”

Looking back, Lindisfarne were in the right place at the right time.

“Definitely. The Beatles had finished, glam rock had just started and Lindisfarne came along with three or four minute songs that meant something. We were like the early pub rockers but we did it a bit earlier than them.”

“The Lindisfarne story is about a time, not just a band. For the audience it was their time as well, a lot of them have their memories about different songs or situations, and we went on for a long time, had a lot of success. The best-selling album of 1972 was Fog on the Tyne, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

The Lindisfarne Story is at the Garrick Theatre, Lichfield on 30th September, Solihull Arts Centre on october 8th and Tamworth Assembly Rooms on Novemebr 27th.

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