For Mark Tinson, Too Much Rock And Roll Is Never, Ever Enough

Just as it was in 1979 when his band Heroes played the infamous send-off performance for the Star Hotel, followed by a notorious fracas and international headlines, Mark Tinson’s Book/CD Launch at Lizottes last Friday night was one of those gigs that will occupy a revered place in Newcastle music folklore for decades to come.

Not only was it the launch of his book chronicling a very impressive list of musical achievements, it was Mark Tinson’s 64th birthday. In truth, the gig was a celebration of his life’s work, and of those with whom he collaborated along the way. It also clearly encapsulated, within a one night only performance, why many regard Tinson as the Godfather of Newcastle’s music industry.

Even before the night itself, there was the excitement of anticipation, of something unique about to happen. Social media quietly hummed with tales of rehearsals and mentions of who would be appearing. Upon arriving at the venue and being greeted by a beaming Brian Lizotte, it is clear he intuitively senses that there is magic in the air and, in his words, “rock and roll royalty in the house tonight”. And he is right on both counts.

Entering the theatre itself, to the right and immediately recognisable are Australian music icons Mike Rudd from the legendary band Spectrum and Les Hall from 70’s chart-toppers TMG. Bob Spencer from Skyhooks/The Angels is there too and, looking around, it is like an honour roll of some of Newcastle’s finest and most high profile musicians.

In short, Tinno has one hell of a musical story to tell.

For the sold-out show, Tinson unfolds his musical past and many of his accomplices like a journey through time. Intertwining this is his musical mistress – his passion for his instrument – and excerpts from his trilogy of guitar albums, Steelville Cats I and II and, launching tonight, the Surfcats, all three showcasing a who’s who of guitar virtuosos.

As the intro of The Beatles’ ‘When I’m 64’ fades, Tinno and The Retro Rockets: vocalist/guitarist Brien McVernon (Lipp System/Circus Life), drummer Steve McLennan aka Mac (Freakshop) and bass player Donovan Whitworth, smash out ‘The Missing Link’, an instrumental from the first Steelville Cats album and a tribute to Link Wray. It is a fitting start to proceedings but then the band ignite into ‘I’m In The U.S.A.’ The impact is like a wave rolling though the crowd as The Rockets blast off with some great backing vocals to top off McVernon’s vocal energy and guitar wizardry.

Then it’s time for The Raiding Party, a band of Tinson’s that became kings of the Newcastle scene in the 80’s. Their hit single was ‘Loveland’ and it is here that the stuff of legend starts. With original keys player Jim Davis overseas, synth maestro Dave Tavender is recruited. His challenge is not only to learn the parts but also to miraculously source the unique synth sound that Mac refers to as ‘Slush Heaven’ that opens ‘Loveland’, a sound that has probably not been produced for 20 years or more. Everyone knows that the song just won’t sound the same without it. Tavender is on a mission.

McVernon switches to bass and Raiding Party frontman Ian ‘Candy’ Sandercoe takes to the stage. Candy rose to full-on star status with Raiding Party in the 80’s, building a huge fan base. As Tavender plays the distinctive intro (he found it – legend!), its clear Sandercoe hasn’t lost any of his stage presence as he prowls the stage and teases the audience. The band nail ‘Loveland’ in all its pop glory before delivering a mighty version of ‘Sinner’, a song from Mac’s band Freakshop that made it into the Raider’s repertoire back in the day. The Raiding Party tonight reveal all of the force they had back in their prime as one of the city’s top acts.

Tinson follows this by introducing drummer Dannie Davidson from seminal 70’s band Tamam Shud, guitarist Michael Stove (Atlantis/Love That Hat) and bassist Greg Dawson (Armageddon) for a romping version of the instrumental ‘The Rip’. Mitch Capone then hits the stage with the Rehab brass section, Terry Morton (Funky Do Dahs) on drums and Bob Spencer (Finch/Skyhooks/Angels) on guitar for an energised ‘Stays In Vegas’ from his Tinson produced Bad Blood album before Dennis Butler (Benny & The Jets/Atlantis) reveals his guitar prowess on a Surfcats track, ‘Isla de los Suenos’ – only to be followed up by the brilliant Mark Hoppe (Shoot Lucy/Morgan Evans Band) doing ‘’Vaquero del Mar’, also from the new Surfcats disc. If that ain’t enough, Tinson then brings local legends Pam and Les Gully (The Orphans) to the stage. Les, Pam (famous for her massive bluesy voice as well as her cheeky cameo appearance in a video for Rabbit) and Tinno go back a long way and have some serious musical chops. Tonight, they deliver a BIG version of ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ – as only Pam can!

Then, a special moment. Tinson’s first ever band Bluegrass reform for only the 2nd time since the 70’s. The renowned Bob Hanley (v), Phil Walker (b) and Greg Lawler (d) join Tinno onstage for a fine rendition of Humble Pie’s ‘Four Day Creep’ before special guest Tony Johns on harp joins the troupe for a blistering version of Chain’s ‘Grab A Snatch & Hold It’. Hanley’s voice thunders through the speakers, impressing everyone with his extraordinary tone and power. The vibe in the audience verges on fever pitch and one wonders just where the show can go to from here.

Ever the master of dynamics, Tinson then picks up his acoustic guitar and takes things down a few notches. He is joined on stage by vocalist Stephanie Chitty (Der Straza) and Sue Carson (Sligo Maid/Love That Hat), as the audience hushes for the beautiful ‘Love Is Child’.

Then things get surprisingly a little more intimate as Tinson invites his wife and highly regarded vocalist Julie Wilson onstage for ‘Two Sides Of Heartbreak’, an excellent Tinson-penned track from Wilson’s New Love album. Tinno admits to the crowd he feels vulnerable with just him and an acoustic guitar but maybe it had more to do with the obvious bond between the two and the sharing of it with a couple of hundred people. It is a touching moment both musically and personally, as witnessed in the photos below.

The first set (yes, this was all just the first set), finishes with Kate White (Curvettes) from Tinson’s 2017 show Girls On The Radio, along with Dave Carter on banjo, Les Gully on drums and Leigh Sherringham on the amazing sousaphone for a fun, show-time performance of ‘Those Were The Days’. White perfectly hams it up, the crowd laps it up and everyone in the room sings along in fine voice with every chorus.

After an intermission, the crowd re-assemble wondering how Tinno is going to top such a stellar first half. He starts once again with partner Julie Wilson, joined on stage this time by Sue Carson on fiddle as well as Dawson and Morton for ‘I’ve Thrown My List Away’, a Tinson-penned song which won the Jazz category at the 2002 ABC Music Awards. Again, it is highly personal as Wilson tells the story behind the song and takes us all on the musical journey.

It is then that Australian music legend Mike Rudd (Spectrum/Ariel) takes up the microphone to rapturous applause. It’s hard to sum up Rudd’s extraordinary contribution to the evolution of this nation’s music but suffice to say that, apart from the fact that the first song he ever wrote became a #1 hit, the work he did with Spectrum in the 70’s influenced a host of bands for decades to follow.

Rudd opens with a rousing version of ‘Esmeralda’, a song, he explains, about a prostitute who ends up in court to face the magistrate – one of her clients! The crowd loves it but it is just the entrée for what is to follow. Still in fine voice, Rudd delights the throng as he introduces his genuine Aussie classic ‘I’ll Be Gone’, with Wilson, White and a willing audience providing backing vocals. It was an amazing moment (one of many) – check out the video below!

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From here, Tinson is joined by Mark Hoppe and Bob Spencer for the three-pronged guitar attack of ‘The Stumble’, a “hoot to play” according to Tinson and, as you’d expect, a raucous full-on rock guitar performance that showcases some blinding fret work by the three virtuosos.

And when too much guitar is never enough, Dave Hinds (Marshall Brothers/Finch/Rabbit) ventures on stage, direct from his earlier show with the Phil Emmanuel Band. Hinds and Tinson are musical twins, with their guitars so in-sync you would think they had never stopped playing together. Accompanied by Les Gully, Carter and Tavender, the pair launch into the sizzling ‘Bo’s Reef’, Hinds’ contribution to the new Surfcats album.

Despite the incredible array of stars, songs and performances so far, believe it or not, now is the time in the show where Tinson brings out the big guns of his career, the bands with whom he hit the charts and toured nationally.

First off it’s A Rabbit, with lead singer Greg Douglas and Tinson joined by Hinds, Phil Screen (d) and Jim Porteus (b) to get some of the crowd up dancing with ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’. Then a moment many in the audience had been waiting for . . . Rabbit’s classic hit and the title track of their infamous glam album ‘Too Much Rock ‘n’ Roll’. Though he didn’t record the original back in the mid 70’s, Douglas is in fine voice tonight as he leads the otherwise classic Rabbit line-up through the performance. Screen and Porteus sit as tightly as ever in the engine room as Tinson expertly crunches the riff while Hinds takes flight on lead – and Douglas looks like he’s having a ball. For Rabbit fans, it is blissful – check the video below.

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Next, Screen and Tinson stay on stage, inviting TMG guitarist Les Hall and local star Ty Penshorn (The Humm/Hornet) for the crowd favourite ‘Darktown Strutters Ball’, a huge hit for the Ted Mulry Gang, with whom Tinson toured. The audience remains firmly transplanted in the 70’s when Wilson and White join the ensemble for the enduring classic ‘Jump In My Car’ – also captured on video (below).

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To finish the concert proper, its time to celebrate what is perhaps Tinson’s most famous moment of notoriety – his time with Heroes, a Newcastle band that, on the back of their performance on the night of the Star Hotel riot, signed to the Alberts label, recorded a great album and appeared on Countdown. Augmented by Bob Spencer’s guitar and the Rehab horns (Dave Thompson and Leigh Sherringham), original Heroes Tinson, Screen and Porteus are led by Dave Carter for ‘Star And The Slaughter’. One usually spies Dave Carter on stage with a bass, guitar, banjo or bagpipes but tonight, he is a frontman with a vengeance. It is rare to see Carter in this role but he is superb and, as the band rocks the house down, Carter builds the song to its crescendo, a fitting climax to a stunning show.

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But, with the chant of ‘Tinno, Tinno’, the master recruits Mac (d), Porteus (b), Hoppe (g), Spencer (g) and Stephanie Chitty on vocals to round out the night with a ripping performance of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’.

After what has been a marathon of more than 3 hours of incredible music, the audience is left completely sated by the spectacle they have witnessed. There were so many amazing moments and too many highlights to count. Now it is time for catch-ups and a seemingly tireless Tinson to sign copies of his book for the fans lined up in the foyer.

With so much rich history and talent on display on one stage for just one night, it is hard to do justice to what will go down as one of the most remarkable events in local music history. So, perhaps it is best left to the words of the venue’s owner and host Brian Lizotte who describes it on social media as “without doubt one of the best nights EVER at Lizottes . . . a truly awesome musical smorgasbord”.

It was a fitting birthday party for Tinson and an historic musical moment, not just for those who were there but for the entire Newcastle music industry. For Tinson, how could he feel anything but proud . . . and probably very tired? His career has been one of truth in music, a lot of hard work and a list of achievements matched by very few. And tonight was a magnificent once-in-a-lifetime celebration of it all.

(PS – apologies for the audio and average camera work on the videos – better to capture it than not. Local luminary Trevor Dare filmed the night which, when it comes out, will no doubt deliver a much better record of the night).

Mark Tinson Too Much Rock ‘N’ Roll – A Life In Music and the Surfcats CD are available from Abicus, Darby St., and the Edwards Record Store.

Book only is available from McLeans (Hamilton), Harry Hartog, Muso’s Corner, Glendale Newsagency, Toronto Newsagency and McDonalds Booksellers (Maitland). 

The book/CD can also be bought directly from