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Playhouse soul sessions were Sunday institution.

Byline: Phil Lambell

THEY would queue from 11.30am, with the doors opening at noon. Soon the foyer of the Newcastle Playhouse at the top of the Haymarket would be heaving, with 200 or more music fans crammed inside.

From 1982 to 1986, the Sunday lunchtime gig they'd all come to see was a Tyneside institution.

The East Side Torpedoes was a North East soul and rhythm and blues band who played all over the UK.

But every Sunday they came home - missing only a couple of gigs in all that time.

They had started as a fivepiece, led by singer Neil Hunter, adding players until there were eight or 10 on stage, often including a four-man horn section.

And while classic soul covers figured, the set was mainly original material, some of it evocative of North East life.

The Evening Chronicle said their live shows featured "a brand of music that is powerful and fun" and called the band "a breath of fresh air".

It was PS3 to get in. Gill Johnston, who sometimes took the money on the door, remembers: "The atmosphere was electric. You had to stand and it got very hot. The band would do two 45-minute sets but the second one could go on and on depending on their mood."

The Torpedoes recorded an album called Coast to Coast, produced by former Animal Chas Chandler.

They were played on radio by John Peel and John Walters and a single featured as the weekly powerplay on Radio Luxembourg, then a key pop broadcaster.

They appeared at Knebworth, and Tyne Tees TV made a 30-minute film on the band.

Neil remembers: "Some weeks we'd play three or four nights, some weeks five or six, sometimes none but we'd come back for the Playhouse, often driving through the night, because it was that important.

"We had a road crew of three or four guys who were on PS25 a week and the Playhouse gig paid their wages if we didn't have the work in."

Gill recalls the gigs always ending on the same song - the slow, Hunter-penned ballad On Such A Night As This. "By then", she says, "you'd have the audience swaying, everyone singing, people singing harmonies and descants."

The East Side Torpedoes split - "gave up", according to Neil - in the mid-80s. He and trombone player Terry "Ernie" O'Hern stuck together in the Blue Sharks, the D7s and, for a while, a re-formed East Side Torpedoes, before forming the Smokin' Spitfires in 2003.

And it's the Spitfires, again with a four-man horn section, who are, once again, playing a Sunday lunchtime gig - in aid of the Bubble Foundation, which funds lifesaving treatments for babies born without an immune system.

It is a cause the band has supported for some years, introduced to it by Gill Johnston, now Bubble's fundraising manager. The venue is The Cluny in the Ouseburn in Newcastle on Sunday, September 8, doors open at noon. Gill's hoping it'll recapture some of the spirit of the Playhouse days.

Tickets PS6.50 on the door or visit More about the Bubble Foundation at


Cluny. Bottom right, Neil Hunter in full voice in 1982
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 31, 2013
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