Bill Gateshead: Genre-Spanning Lo-Fi Garage Rock From The Right Side Of The Tyne

Allied Bakeries Club Chairman scouts talent - while Bobby Chainbridge listens in
Jeff Dip
February 12, 2024

Bill Gateshead began as a bedroom produced music project that no-one would ever listen to. Starting off as a lo-fi garage rock tribute to his hometown of Gateshead, the project has since spanned a number of genres. Bill - musician David Gibson, often boasts that he is the most prolific Gateshead raised, London based, lo-fi artist currently doing it.

North East Club Publicist, Bobby Chainbridge, found himself in the Committee Room of the Allied Bakeries Club on the Team Valley recently, where Bill Gateshead was being grilled by Chairman Jeff Dip, in the final round of interviews to appoint a resident in-house turn. The transcript, typed up by Club Stenographer Alison Bloate, is presented below: 

Chairman Jeff Dip: Thanks for coming in Bill, and thanks again for the hooky Fire Stick. So, I’ve got a few questions to take you through and the committee will vote on your potential appointment after the Bingo but before the Meat Draw on Thursday afternoon. Right then, how do you feel your local environment shapes your sound or lyrics? Do you find the musical heritage of the North East; whether Knopfler, Nail et al, influence your own music? 

Bill Gateshead: Nee bother Jeff, seriously I could talk about this for ages! As a geography graduate, I'm fascinated by what makes a place unique - the people, the history, the stories. And I'm particularly interested in the connection between place and music, how a song can transport you to a specific location, either directly through the lyrics or more subtly through the sounds.

My work is, in a way, a tribute to the North East and where I grew up. Maybe there was a touch of guilt there, because I left for London as soon as I could ,in my early twenties. But I also think you often appreciate something more once you're away from it.

JD: (To himself while writing on a legal pad) Strike…one…for living…in London.

BG: It's funny, considering I now live in the fast-paced, diverse capital, most of my music revolves around my Gateshead childhood. I've made albums inspired by places like Brixton and Peckham, where I've lived, but Gateshead remains at the core.

For the past decade, I've been trying to write a book called "Paperboy," loosely based on the high street I grew up on and its characters. But writing a book feels daunting; songwriting comes much easier. In fact, many songs on "Live At Angel View Inn" are directly inspired by that story.

Where I grew up, we overlooked the Team Valley. I was always captivated by that view; the industrial valley contrasting with the peaceful rural backdrop of, I guess, County Durham? There's a project I'm working on, a kind of a loose homage. It's a couple of industrial house tracks by a fictional brother-sister duo, living in a derelict warehouse on the Team Valley. As I said, the references to Gateshead might not always be obvious, but there's always a connection to the area. 

JD: Have you been into that giant Dunelm on the Valley recently, great value for some of their gear? 

BG: I haven’t Jeff no, I want to write music about the North East that avoids clichés and doesn't feel forced. I respect Sam Fender and his ability to do that, but I wasn't a typical working-class kid facing daily hardship. Singing about my dad being a miner or me getting into fights just wouldn't feel genuine. I prefer referencing mundane things; pubs, bookies, kebabs - but also incorporating surrealism. ‍

The more ordinary and even boring a place seems when you're growing up, the wilder your imagination can run. I like to take strange stories and rumours from my childhood, stories about local weirdos, criminals, and use them to create a kind of Twin Peaks version of Gateshead.‍

‍JD: When did you pick up your instrument or start writing music? How has your sound evolved over time, and what shaped your musical direction? 

Bill Gateshead, musician and artist
Bill Gateshead: Thoughtful? Pensive? Bored?

BG: It's a cliché, I know, but I've been writing and recording music since I can remember. Even before I could play an instrument, I'd make guitar sounds with my mouth and record albums with my fictional bands "Squeel" (think rip-off Beatles, the name inspired by Squeeze) and "Cost" (my Oasis copycat band). I had rap groups in school and sixth form but our released album was banned from school and we were forced to refund everyone who bought our CD. However,  I didn't actually learn guitar until I was sixteen.

I'd begged my dad to teach me for years, but finally decided to take matters into my own hands as a New Year's resolution. I used books and the internet, learned a few chords, and started writing and recording songs in the music program Audacity. The real turning point came when my dad surprised me with a four-track recorder. It allowed me to layer guitar and vocals, convert them to MP3s, and put them on the computer. 

I like the idea of evolution. Without a big audience I don't feel pressured to change my sound with each recording. Sometimes, I even listen to my music and think, "Hey, that sounds like my old stuff!" I guess I'm searching for my own sound and that’s a positive thing, like, oh maybe I have a specific sound. In a way, making music now is like making music at sixteen - nostalgia plays a big role.

One regret I keep having is not improving my technical skills and music theory knowledge. I basically learned the basics, tossed the books, and focused on creating a vibe I liked. I'd like to sit down and learn new ways to approach music but it does take effort and I've always been a bit lazy. Lockdown forced me to experiment more with DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) and electronic music. I previously made the DLR album (a tongue in cheek instrumental album, documenting a train journey through the financial sector of London) on my phone using Fruity Loops, but with lockdown, I invested in the full laptop edition.

So, instead of my sound ‘evolving’, I've tried to expand my horizons and step outside my comfort zone (guitar, keyboard, programmed drums, distorted vocals). I've always been strapped for cash, so I never went crazy on gear. I kind of enjoy the challenge of making music with limited tools and finding workarounds. I've also never really had a band, so I'm used to using programmed drums, samples, paying people online, and trying other instruments. I think the challenges are what makes music unique.

I do hope to collaborate more in the future, but it's tough. Making music is a personal thing, and letting someone else in feels strange. I also get imposter syndrome a lot when talking to other musicians on Instagram. I know I'm not technically skilled, but I have a lot of time to think up new ideas.

JD: Can you describe your songwriting or music-making process? Do you start with melody, lyrics, or a specific emotion? Do you prefer collaborating or working solo? 

BG: I sometimes surprise people with this but I like to get an album cover done first. I have always been obsessed with the mood set by the cover and the little booklets you used to get in the CDs. I normally have ideas for covers lined up, and I'll put them on my laptop screen while I'm fiddling around with the music, I like the synergy between the visuals and the music. 

I'm actually currently working on a track in collaboration with an artist called 'Brutalwares' who sent me over an amazing painting he did. I've used the painting as my main inspiration for a piece of music and it's going be on Spotify soon. 

So yeah, album covers, album titles; a general mood is how I'll start most of my projects and then just start adding songs from there. I also quite like to record them in the order they will appear on the album but of course this goes to shit quite early on. I also have a notes page on my phone full of random lines that could appear in songs, like a rhyming couplet, a word, a theme.

often write them when drunk so reading them back is always a challenge, I've read a few other songwriters do this so I know I'm not alone. I often worry about someone stealing my phone and finding it and reading my cringiest inner thoughts. For example, at the top of my currents notes file is:

'I'd recognise that sigh anywhere

Results of a racist game of risk

Watering the basil plant

Life is full of choices (nuts or zoo magazine)'

If I'm doing something guitar based, I'll always just come up with a chord progression and drums, then build from there. Add some keys, melodies, solos. I struggle with melodies sometimes so they generally come at the end. I very rarely write lyrics down until I get a backing track to place them on. I sometimes just record myself singing the first thing that comes to mind and then build it up, keeping it as spontaneous as possible. 

Not to sound pretentious, which means I'm definitely going to say something pretentious, but there is this thing called 'automatic writing,’ have you heard of André Breton? 

JD: The lad from Crawcrook? 

BG: No, the Surrealist Artist, make sure Alison types André Breton, and that I know who he is.

JD: Alison, have you got that? Are you nodding, I can’t tell with your neck brace…I think she’s got it. Go on.

BG: Breton developed a style where people put a pen down, shut off their mind and then just see what they write/draw. I like to think my style is similar to that, singing what comes to mind and then making sense out of it afterwards. 

JD: Aye, I saw a medium that did that. Thought it was nonsense, until she told me the six digit combination to the lockbox I found in me dads loft. Anyway, what pre-gig rituals or routines help you get into the zone? 

BG: I don't play live, so no rituals in that sense. I would like to go perform one show and go all out; dress up as Bill Gates, pop out of a papier-mâché Angel Of The North, maybe have some people dressed as Raoul Moat, mingling menacingly in the crowd. But, as I've never had a band, it would be difficult to put together and plus, a lot of my music is so different, curating a coherent set would be a challenge.‍

I did get asked to play a show in North Shields recently and I think I pissed the guy off because I was so non-committal and kept talking down my ability. So, to date, my only live performance was an acoustic set in India, where I played a stripped down 'Straight Outta Compton' and an original called 'Pancake Day'. The crowd was split 50/50.

My rituals for recording though, I have a lot of time on my hands as my job is pretty relaxed so whenever I feel creative I'll jump on and try and record some stuff. In terms of recording vocals, I'll have to work around when my girlfriend is in the flat as I get a bit embarrassed. I also add a lot of effects to my vocals so what she hears me wailing into the microphone is often different to how it sounds on the recording. 

In my younger days, I'd have a can of coke, surround myself with my amp, 8 track, keyboard, mic and stay up until 3am recording nonsense in whatever flat I was living in. I tend to get more creative at night, I'd always wake up the next day unsure if I'd made something genius or absolute inaudible garbage (often the fact always the latter).

JD: Well, I won’t lie to you Bill, not playing live is gonna hamper your chances of being the resident turn like? Shall we continue? 

BG: Aye, let’s.

‍JD: Fair play, what stories, emotions, or social issues do you frequently explore in your lyrics or music? Are there any personal experiences or messages you aim to convey?

BG: Well, I've always wanted to write music with a more broad appeal. When I listen to some of my favourite songwriters I think, how the hell can this music connect with so many people but also be so vague, it takes a lot of skill to do that I think, you really have to choose your words carefully.

I've touched on social issues in my music; politics, climate change, religion - but I wouldn't say my music is overtly political. I think if anything there’s quite a nihilistic undertone in a lot of my lyrics, but I guess that in itself is a political stance. 

I feel a lot of the songs I write start with some concerns and then it ends with a 'does it all even matter anyway?' I doubt anyone will ever get anything insightful from my lyrics. A good example is a song that didn't make the Dunston Coffin Donuts album. It was about how some men would rather just make more friends and have an active social life than have children and settle down. It sort of starts like it's a criticism of conforming and starting a family, but in the end it sort of just goes 'but who cares, do what you want'. Especially as I love the idea of my friends having kids so I can be a cool's probably more about my own insecurities.

Dunston Coffin Donuts Sleeve Artwork
Dunston Coffin Donuts Sleeve Artwork

Going back to the 'Paperboy' novel for a second, I guess a lot of those themes pop up. This surreal misremembered version of the Gateshead I grew up in. Mainly tragic male characters (failed entertainers, dumped boyfriends, gambling addicts).

JD: How do you engage with the music scene in the North East? Do you collaborate with other musicians, or participate in local initiatives?

BG: Growing up, my music was so personal to me, I'd play and record just for myself. I had folders upon folders of nonsense I'd made and I'd lose my shit if any of my brothers tried to listen to it. I'd sometimes feel comfortable enough to share it with a girl from school on MSN, hoping they'd think I was the next Alex Turner, but apart from that it wasn't something I wanted out in the open.

My music wasn't really in the public domain until recently, I'm not sure when this switched, I guess as you get older you stop giving a fuck and I just liked the idea of my music being on Spotify, it made it feel real. You can spend your life trying to make something you think is worthy of being out there, but I just figured it's more fun to just put everything online and you never know one or two people might like it.

I then also started my Instagram and whilst I still wouldn't say I actively promote my music, I am a bit more open about it and keen for new people to hear it. I've never gigged or worked on projects in person with people, it's still something I'm not completely comfortable with. Making music is about throwing a load of ideas and most of them not sticking. That is a lot easier to do with no one else around.

I've made more of an effort in recent years to connect to other artists on instagram and I've even collaborated a little bit but I do still have that imposter syndrome/inferiority complex. I've recently done a remix for Amateur Ornithologist, which is due out in March. They’re a great band led by Daniel Clifford. He's such a nice down to earth guy who, whilst I feel a bit inferior in terms of musical ability, I can discuss ideas with. 

There are loads of other amazing artists I've connected with and planned collabs that never materialised. I'm also open to collabs with non-musical artists like the recent one with Brutalwares or linking my music to the surreal working mens club images of WMC.NE

I would love to be part of a community, have a load more friends who like to discuss music and the creative process, but I'm at peace with how things have gone. I'm always open to contributing music to projects and never expecting anything in return so if anyone is interested, let me know. Providing I’m reported on Instagram for impersonating Bill Gates again. ‍

JD: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a musician? What are your current musical goals and aspirations?

BG: I mean, the challenges remain the same, I'm on my own, I have no band so everything has to be done by me or I'm paying someone on the other side of the world to record a saxophone part. 

I can't really write songs or sing very well but I want to do it, so that's also challenging. I have toyed with the idea of writing an album and paying the cheapest crooner on to record it, that could be funny. 

I still don't think I've put out an album that completely captures who or what Bill Gateshead is. I've came close with 'Live At Angel View Inn' and 'Dunston Coffin Donuts'. I keep telling myself, I have an album in me, doesn't have to be the best written, just one that has a consistent theme and sound to it, that is something I aspire to. 

I have an idea for an album this year where the album cover will be similar to the Dunston Coffin Donuts one, but it'll have a cartoon version of me crucified on the Angel of the North like Jesus. I'm hoping the music will just come from there somehow.

JD: How do you hope your music resonates with listeners or impacts the local music scene? What kind of legacy do you aspire to leave as a musician?

BG: One thing that is hopefully clear here is that I'm painfully self aware. I’m under no illusion that my music is making any sort of impact. But, I do hope people see me online or hear my music, and think ,well if this guy isn't ashamed of his music, then maybe I should put mine out there. ‍

Whenever I see someone pushing their music online and, to me, it  sounds awful, it does sort of fill me with joy for this person. Everyone should have a pop at creating stuff, it doesn't have to be good. It's like writing in a diary, it's always funny going back and listening to it ten years later. 

Some people will say, would Sam Fender have existed if Bill Gateshead never dropped his old garage rock stuff on Bandcamp back in the day. That’s not for me to say, but I am open to a joint album, there’s got to be some good puns on us both having popular guitar brands as surnames (Gibson that is, not Gateshead).

JD: Last one for you Bill, where do you see your music evolving in the next few years?‍

BG: I jokingly assigned Daniel, from Amateur Ornithologist, the role of my manager in 2024 with dreams of emulating his band. He advised me to release less music and spend more time promoting it; drop singles, and put a lot of time and effort into one project.

Well, we're one month into the year and I have a two track EP of industrial house under the guise of a fictional electronic duo, I'm dropping the collab with Brutalwares, I have an album of ambient electronic music inspired by Saltwell Park, and also may release an album of random songs and recordings from the past year or so. 

So it's business as always for Gateshead's most productive, London based musician, in his thirties. I’ve completely ignored his advice but I think this is just me, I flit from idea to idea and struggle to focus and work hard on anything. I actually have an idea to do something about the Jarrow March, and somehow tie that into me moving from the North East to London; about how this makes me ashamed and a sell out. Typical Bill Gateshead, how can I make this about me?

Could be funny though.

Bill Gateshead's Saltwell Park Artwork
Bill Gateshead's Saltwell Park Artwork

JD: Cheers for that Bill, I mean, without the live performance you’re a bit knackered for the clubs like. I reckon though, with a bit of practice, you’d make a great bingo caller. 


Bill Gateshead is the sole artist on his independent record label,  Low Fell Lo Fi, where he is CEO, social media rep, producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. For any queries, visit @billg8teshead on Instagram.