BACK in the Seventies I was at an all-boys grammar school. It had a stern-looking main building, gowned masters, blazers and ties and an inexplicable tolerance for long hair. But while I shared with my contemporaries a reluctance to go the barbers, I didn’t share the musical tastes of many of them.

It was fashionable to paint your haversack to reflect your favourite band. Intricate daubings of logos and album covers of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Hawkwind mostly, Genesis, Welsh rockers Budgie, and, for the older lads, CSNY.

Truth was, I didn’t like very much by any of them.


The Smokin’ Spitfires at Darlington Arts Centre in 2011. Picture courtesy of Gasto Promotions

At a party I was once outed as not being one of them. “You,” my accuser observed, “like all that soul and Motown sh*t, don’t you?”

Guilty as charged. Still guilty. And out on Friday night watching North East band the Smokin’ Spitfires playing a repertoire of classic Atlantic, Stax and Motown and a smattering of genuine originals at their annual Darlington Christmas party gig.

If my accuser from long ago is still around I have this observation for him: you don’t see many full rooms for bands playing Budgie and CSNY covers these days do you?.

The Spitfires have their roots, a long time ago, in the East Side Torpedoes. In 1978 the Torpedoes were the first band to play Darlington Arts Centre, in what became the Garden Bar, and the Spitfires, with two of the original Torpedoes, were among the last acts to play there before the centre’s unfortunate closure.

The East Side Torpedoes made an album, flirted with fame. They did a soul song about urban redevelopment – East End, West End – and another about confronting prejudice – Face It Where It Stands. On Such a Night As This, which closed Friday’s gig, is about being away from your Northern home. (There’s a remarkable amount of East Side Torpedoes stuff on YouTube, try starting here

The Smokin’ Spitfires are playing a series of benefit gigs at The Cluny in Newcastle in aid of the Bubble Foundation. You can find them there on the first Sunday of each month, including next Sunday, January 5, 2014.

Before the series launched, with what was planned to be a one-off, I had a chat with lead singer Neil Hunter for the Remember When page of the Chronicle in Newcastle.  I’ll post that article next.