The Groundhogs early 70s gigs: the classic line-up

The Groundhogs early 70s gigs: the classic line-up groundhogssplit
This is going to be a bit of a marathon, so please indulge me on this. If there is one band that I have followed consistently over the past 40+ years, it is The Groundhogs. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen them, and hope that collecting my memories in the form of posts on my blog, will help me recall some of the great times I have had at Groundhogs gigs. I intend to blog about this great band over the Christmas period, and its going to take me quite a few days (perhaps a couple of weeks!) to cover all the different line-ups of the band that I have seen, since I first caught them in concert in the early 70s. I’ll also cover the legend that is Tony McPhee as a solo artist during my bloggings.
The first time I saw The Groundhogs was at Newcastle City Hall in February 1971, when they were support act for The Rolling Stones. I’ve blogged separately on this gig from a Stones perspective, but I need to concentrate on my memories of Tony and the guys here. This was, of course, the classic power trio line-up of McPhee on guitar, Pete Cruikshank on bass, and Ken Pustelnik on drums. I didn’t know who was supporting the Stones until I got into the hall, and they introduced them as they came on stage. So it was a nice surprise to find out I was about to witness my first Groundhogs gig. stones71 This was just around the time that they released Split, and their (very short) set comprised a few songs from that and Thank Christ for the Bomb. The Groundhogs set was particularly short that night, as there were two performances of the Rolling Stones show, the first being from 6.30 to 8.30pm, which didn’t allow the support act to play for much more than half an hour. The Leeds University gig of the tour was recorded and released as the Live At Leeds EP, which shows the set as being: Cherry Red; Garden; Split Part One; Groundhogs Blues; and Eccentric Man. That night I became a lifelong Groundhogs fan. Their music was a unique mix of blues and rock, and they were truly at the height of their powers at the time. I saw this original classic line-up four more times over the next year or so; at Newcastle City Hall, Sunderland Bay Hotel, Newcastle Mayfair, and Sunderland Top Rank.
The City Hall gig was during 1971 and was a co-headlining show with Chicken Shack. Things didn’t go entirely to plan and for some reason The Groundhogs weren’t able to appear that night, so Chicken Shack headlined the gig, and very good they were too. The gig was promoted by local guy Geoff Docherty, who came on stage to apologise and tell us The Groundhogs would play a couple of weeks later. This was one of those gigs where you handed your tickets in at the door, so they gave them back to us as we left, so that we could use them at the rescheduled gig. One of my mates was quite enterprising and kept going in and out of the hall, and thus managed to collect a few extra tickets, which he sold on to people at school. So a couple of weeks later we returned to the City Hall, and as promised The Groundhogs did indeed play for us. I also remember that Bridget St John was support at one of those two gigs; I think it was the first night when Chicken Shack played. I remember someone threw a can, just missing her, and Geoff Docherty came on to the stage to tell the crowd to calm down. At the time The Groundhogs would start with Mistreated (from Blues Obituary), and then play a selection of tracks from their first few albums including Eccentric Man, Still a Fool (from the first album, Scratching the Surface), Split I, Garden, and Groundhog Blues. They would finish with Split II with a marathon solo by Tony and lots of use of the whammy bar, and return for an encore of Cherry Red. Tony was quite rightly rated as one of the best guitarists in the country at the time, and his guitar playing was stunning and a joy to experience.
A group of us went to see The Groundhogs play at Sunderland Bay Hotel sometime late in 1971. I decided to go at the last minute, missing a gig by Rory Gallagher at the City Hall so that I could see the Hogs with my mates. The place was packed and Tony was on top form; I remember this as one of the best times I ever saw the band.
hogswhowillsave In early 1972, I was at Newcastle Mayfair to see The Groundhogs and Chicken Shack share a bill again, at a dance for Ashington College students. Both bands did play this time, alongside a couple of other bands, as I recall. Chicken Shack were on top form with Stan walking around the dance floor playing his guitar, using an extra long lead. The Groundhogs had just released the Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Groundhogs album, and played a couple of tracks from the new lp: Earth is not Room Enough, and Music is the Food of Thought. I think this is the only time I’ve ever seen them play those tracks. Tony was also getting into some serious soloing at this point, playing a very Hendrix-ish version of Amazing Grace.
Around the same time, in early 1972, a group of us saw The Groundhogs at Sunderland Top Rank. We’d been to see Slade (who were excellent) at Sunderland Locarno earlier that night, and came into the Rink (as it was known) just as The Groundhogs took to the stage, having missed the support act Ashton, Gardner and Dyke. I managed to make my way right to the front, and stood right in front of Tony as he soloed on Amazing Grace and Split II. We also got back stage that night and chatted to Tony and Pete.
groundhigsflyer Its amazing how many times The Groundhogs played in the north east within the space of a year. In fact there were more gigs then these, including a concert at the City Hall where they were supported by Egg and Quicksand (see flyer), which I missed (and I still regret it!). Ken Pustelnik was soon to leave the band, to be replaced by Clive Brooks, and that version of the band toured extensively over the next couple of years, calling at the City Hall a few times. I’ll blog on those gigs in the coming days.

9 responses to this post.

  1. Enjoyed this a lot… Big fan of The Groundhogs…


    • Posted by Mitch on January 8, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      I’m also a massive Groundhogs fan living in NE England. I saw them three times in less than a year back in 71/72 – Newcastle City Hall 1st December 1971 with Egg supporting – Quicksand did not appear despite being advertised. Sunderland Top Rank 14th Jan 1972 with Ashton Gardner & Dyke as support. And again at Newcastle City Hall 26th November 1972 with Stray & Gentle Giant on The Hogwash tour. I still have the ticket stub and programme from this gig.


      • Posted by vintagerock on January 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm

        Hi I missed the gig with Egg which I regret to this day, but was at the other two gigs. Happy days Peter

  2. Posted by John Johnstone on December 27, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Hi, the first live gig I ever went to was to see the Groundhogs with Egg at the City Hall, and then saw the Hogs with Gentle Giant at the same place a year later. Bit puzzled though, I thought that Stray were on the bill with Egg, not Gentle Giant (although the passing years may have fogged my memory). Great days …


    • OK, just read your report of the second gig, seems that I was mistaken. I recently saw Stray (with the Hogs in support!) at Kendal Brewery, brought all the old times flooding back …


      • Posted by vintagerock on December 27, 2014 at 3:21 pm

        Hi John the Groundhogs remain one of my all time favourite bands, as do Stray Cheers Peter

  3. Posted by Malcolm Hitchen on July 8, 2017 at 8:16 am

    I still have that poster somewhere !! I was at the Liverpool “St Georges hall ” Concert


    • Posted by Rob Hogan on April 20, 2020 at 7:41 am

      I too was at the St George’s Hall Gig but can’t remember the date or support (if any). I would love to know the date.


  4. Posted by Peter Walsh on December 18, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Great blog folks. I’m a huge ‘Hogs fan having seen them many time since 1971 including at the Weeley Festival (August 1971) which was awesome (and bizarre). I’ve kept in touch with Tony McPhee via email and love the acoustic blues stuff he’s doing now. I have all ‘Hogs albums on vinyl and will NEVER part with them! PW


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