SOUNDS ALIVE: The Power of Music

The adrenalin rush of the thunderclap from Icelandic football fans. The guitar intro to Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers. Kurt Cobain’s anger on the Nirvana anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit.

And what about John Bonhams bombastic drums on When the Levee Breaks ? Sound has a real strength and songs have unforgettable moments. What’s yours ? 

Music has a power to ignite and heal. Rewind to the ’80s. A charity single aimed at raising money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Pop and rock stars of the day including the Durans, Spandau, Quo, Sting, Bono and not forgetting Bananarama crammed into Sarm West studio in London.

Songwriters Bob Geldof and Midge Ure realised they didn’t have a nice little charity single on their hands but a major pop record when George Michael and Boy George laid down their vocal tracks on Do They Know it’s Christmas.

The song raised millions and the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium followed. Bono becoming Bono. Freddy’s Big Night Out. And Geldof salutes ‘The lesson today is how to die’. History was made. The power of music.

The shelves in my local library are full of music related books. Lately I’ve read biographies by Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing and the Russian classical composer, Prokofiev. Complete contrasts ? Prokofiev has his lighter moments but listen to Dance of the Pagan Master. That’s Heavy Metal from way back.

You’ll also find a bit of Prokofiev in Greg Lakes I Believe in Father Christmas. Check out the horse drawn sleigh in Troika. Wonderful sound. What am I saying here ?

Well, not only do we want to listen to music, but read about it and talk about it. That’s the power of music.

Of course, we all have our own tastes and top ten lists. But music is a leveller, and it can be used to sum up our feelings at any given moment.

After the England football team were beaten in the Euro ’96 semi-finals Walk Away by Cast was played on TV over pictures of the manager Terry Venables head down, hands in pockets walking down the touch line knowing this was probably his last match in charge.

In that team Geordies Gazza and Shearer stood tall. But football didn’t come home that day. 

The internet in the late ’90s. Is that when music started to lose its value? I’m not talking about value that rings the till. More of a value that can be considered important. Even cherished.

In interviews guitarist Noel Gallagher talked of Oasis not being the most popular band in the ’90s, but the most important. Blur might have something to say on that one, but they never had quarter of a million at Knebworth.

What is the attraction of music? Some songs have great stories. You’ll have your own favourites like the first records you bought. The songs that marked important moments in your life. The inspiration behind them, who wrote the lyrics and what it means to you.

And finally, your funeral song. Yep, some people have their favourites ready for when they finally check out. Music really is the soundtrack to our lives. From beginning to the end.

Well the music is your special friend. Dance on fire as it intends 

Music is your only friend. Until the end.  (Jim Morrison, When the Music’s Over). 

Gary Alikivi   October 2018.



1980 The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside   11th Feb. 2018.

Rockin’ All Over the Toon  22nd May 2018.

Rockin’ All Over the Toon Again  14th Sept. 2018.

When the Music’s (not) Over 24th Sept. 2018.

For more Tyneside stories why not subscribe to the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

BOMBS IN THE BLACKOUT – with author John Orton

This is the third blog on a series of books written about South Shields by author John Orton.

The first appearing on 1st October ‘Bobbies, Bookies and Beer’ and a second installment last week ‘Bread, Jam and Cow Heel Pie’…John takes up the story…. 

‘I had just published the Five Stone Steps: tales of a Policeman’s life in 1920s South Shields. I was writing a sequel and wanted a last story about the War years. Sergeant ‘Jock’ Gordon whose memoirs inspired the book does not say a lot about the war and most of that is taken up and criticising the War Reserve Police.

I started doing my own research. I had no idea how bad things became for everyone during the War, and in particular how much the town of Shields had suffered during the Blitz. There was enough material for a book let alone one story.

When people think of the War their first thoughts are of the heroes on the front line but the battle at home during the German blitzkrieg was in its own way just as tough.

There was a whole army of young and old, men and women, who became ARP Wardens, street firewatchers, auxiliary fire-fighters, and ambulance crew, war reserve police, rescue squads and the WVS who took out the mobile canteens for the rescue workers’.

National Fire Service Mobile canteen STH0000228

National Fire Service

‘Then I discovered the PAMs – police auxiliary messengers – lads between 16 and 18 with their own bikes who would go out during and after raids to deliver messages – when the phone lines were down they were the only way of getting messages through.

The thought of young lads riding their bikes in the blackout, with bombs flying round their ears, was the inspiration behind Blitz PAMs.

Once I’d got the idea and finished my research I found the perfect voice for the story – Mossie Hamed, a 16 year old delivery boy, of mixed English and Arab stock, who speaks with a broad Shields accent.

The story told itself and sometimes I had a job keeping up with it! The book was finished in about 6 months which is quick for me’.

How much of the book is fact or fiction ?

’The story of the book is how six young PAMs, Mossie, Davey, Jimmy, Freddie, Mattie and Jackie, who turns out to be a lass, live through the blitz on Shields, and cope with life knowing that their name might be on the next bomb.

Their adventures, scrapes and adolescent fumbling’s with lasses, paint a vivid picture of what life was like for teenagers in the war.

The PAMs are all fictional characters but their exploits – uncovering a black market racket, exposing a Policeman who is looting bomb sites, and rescuing a budgie from the ruins, are all things that happened during the war. 

The descriptions of the air raids themselves, the death and damage they caused are all based on fact.

A German Henkel did crash land on the seafront and the German pilot who baled out was killed when he landed on the live trolley bus wires.

A 1000kg bomb did crash through the roof of the power station landing on the top of one of the boilers without exploding; a direct hit on the underground shelter in the marketplace killed at least 12 people who were sheltering inside.

The foreman of a rescue squad was awarded the George Medal for bravery’.

Did researching the book effect you in any way ?

Where you saddened or shocked at the amount of war damage done to Shields ?

’I was really moved by the resilience of all the emergency services and their auxiliary/volunteer helpers in the face of the German bombing. These were people who for the main part had full time jobs but still turned out at night if there was a raid.

On Wednesday 9th April 1941 a major raid targeted the riverside. About 6,000 incendiary bombs were dropped. Once The Lawe Top area lit up it was a perfect target for the bombers. Mile End Road and the surrounding streets were hit hard’.

Surface Shelter Mile End Road STH0001089

Mile End Road, South Shields

‘This shelter was surrounded by houses – they were all blown to smithereens but the shelter stood firm – you can see the six inch crack that went from the ceiling to the ground but all inside were kept safe.

The unsung heroes in this case were the corporation brickies who built the shelter – thank heavens they didn’t have a team of cowboys who are putting up modern houses!

During this raid the Shields ARP called for mutual aid from surrounding towns. Sunderland sent their fire-fighters who took on the fires at the dockside. The ferocity of two other raids did shock and sadden me.

They were only a couple of days apart and left a lot of the town in ruins’.

Can you tell us a story from the book ?

’There are many humorous passages but here is one that brings home how dangerous life could be for the PAMS. The action takes place during the raid on the Market Place on 2nd October 1941.

Mossie and Freddie have been sent out on their bikes to the Market Place to see what help is needed. Freddie has had an on and off relationship with Gertie, one of the auxiliary ambulance drivers.

As they near the Market Square Freddie sees Gertie in her ambulance. Mossie takes over the account of what happened next…..

“I’ll cut them off,” Freddie called oot as he tore strite across the Market Place standing on his pedals. I was way behind, and riding ower cobbles is bad enough when you’re gan’ slow.

He was past the auld Town Hall and took one hand off the handle bars to wave to the ambulance driver, and then the bombs came doon. I dain’t kna’ how many there were but the last thing I saw was Freddie flying through the air, and then the blast caught me. I was oot for a couple of minutes and didn’t kna’ where I was.

I came to, feeling a bit sick, and couldn’t hear owt. I was just behind the auld Town Hall and that must have saved me from the full force of the blast. All I could see was flames all roond.

Me bike was on top of me and I pushed it away and got to me feet. I had a stab of pain in me left leg and had a job putting any weight on it, but that was all. A trolley bus ootside the Tram was alight.

I then saw Gertie get oot of the ambulance. You couldn’t mistake her. She was running towards where I’d last seen Freddie. Then she was doon as there was a geet big explosion from Dunn’s Paint stores, and blazing tins of paint and oil were gan’ up like rockets and then coming doon like fire bombs.

She got up and ran forward and I limped across as quick as I could. I saw her bend ower and pick something up – it looked like a pile of rags.

I was nearly there and realised that it was Freddie – I was reet beside her but she was strong enough and then something dropped doon. I bent ower to pick it up and it was the bottom part of a leg with a boot on.

Gertie had stopped as well. “What should I de with it?” I started puking. “Bring it with you, Mossie. We’ll keep him all together. He’s still breathing”.

blitz pams cover

If you want to know what happens to Mossie and his marra’s read ‘Blitz PAMS’. Out now on e-book or paperback through Amazon or you can order copies at The Word bookshop, South Shields.

What else have you been working on John ?

’After I’d finished Blitz PAMs I started on ‘A Chill Wind off the Tyne’. My sequel to the Five Stone Steps had been put on hold while I wrote Blitz PAMs.

I went back to it but it was one of those works that you’re never really satisfied with and I rewrote it several times.

It tells the lives of the working class in South Shields in the first half of the twentieth century. The harsh working conditions, the pit lock-outs of 1921 and 1926, the riots in Shields when Arab and white seamen fought over jobs in the streets.

Life on Tyneside during the depression of the 20s and 30s was hard but folk got on with it, laughed and loved, liked a pint and a bet.

Bought their shopping on tick and ate bread and dripping, tripe, brawn and even cow heel pie… ‘Well, you’ll eat owt when you’re hungry’.

Photographs courtesy of South Tyneside Libraries.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   September 2018.


Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.

Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.

Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.

Peter Mitchell, Life In a Northern Town, 9th August 2018.

Ray Spencer MBE, That’s Entertainment 6th September 2018.

John Orton, Bobbies, Bookies & Beer 1st October 2018.

John Orton, Bread, Jam & Cow Heel Pie 17th October 2018.

Why not subscribe to the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more Tyneside stories. You will find the link on the ‘About’ page.

BREAD, JAM & COW HEEL PIE – Hard times in Shields with author John Orton

After posting on 1st October ‘Bobbies, Bookies & Beer’ featuring the work of author John Orton. I caught up with John again and we talked about his new and third book ‘A Chill Wind Off the Tyne’.

He described it as a companion volume to his previous books about South Shields, ‘Five Stone Steps’ and ‘Blitz PAMs’.

What led you to write it John ?

‘It took ages to write and I sometimes nearly gave up on it. After I’d finished The Five Stone Steps. I didn’t get very far trying to get it published, so put it to one side, and thought that I’d work on a sequel.

The problem was that I’d already used up most of the material in Sergeant Jock Gordon’s memoirs and was having a job finding inspiration for new fictional stories. 

I’d finally got something I was reasonably happy with and then wrote Blitz PAMs, which was originally intended to be a final chapter on the war years but turned into a new book.

After Blitz PAMs was published, I looked again at the sequel and basically re-wrote it. I then decided that rather than concentrate on the stories from a police angle I should tell the story of the characters in The Five Stone Steps and also delve into the life of ordinary working class folk during the great Depression of the 20s and 30s. 

This involved a lot more research but it was worth it. I also wanted to tell a bit more about some of the characters who’d appeared in The Five Stone Steps. 

In telling the story of Geordie Hussain who appeared in A Pair of Blue Eyes in The Five Stone Steps I went back to his birth in Shields in Holborn in 1904.

I then added more stories in the late 1930s about the burning down of the Casino, the raid on the Trow Rocks pitch and toss schools and was finally happy with the result.

Tom Duncan who told his own stories in The Five Stone Steps was not about in Shields in the early 1900s and was a peripheral figure in some of the later chapters, so I needed a new narrator.

‘Titch’ Foster who first appeared in The Five Stone Steps in A Sure Thing,  a pathetic specimen who’d been in and out of Durham and who’d do anything for money but work for it’ came in very handy’.


The first chapters are set in the early 1900s before the Great War – you give detailed descriptions of the riverside areas of Holborn, Wapping Street and Shadwell Street and the people who lived there – what research did you have to do ?

’A lot and it was not easy. I had an idea of what life was like in the Laygate area from the tales told by my Nan who had lived in Maxwell Street but the original riverside areas had all been cleared in the ’30s and was just ancient history to me.

The town of Shields owes its prosperity to its location. Salt pans were in operation from medieval times in the Holborn area – salt preserves fish – put them together and you have a roaring export trade.

The clinker from the salt pans and the ballast from the ships made the hills where Holborn was built. 

My main difficulty was getting an idea of the street layout. The main roads were East and West Holborn, Nile Street, Cone Street and Laygate Street and in between were many little Banks, Courts and Places.

I spent hours going over old maps and looking at the hundreds of old photos of Holborn on the website  before I was familiar enough to start writing. 

One of the problems was that pubs and shops changed hands and were often renamed. Many pubs in Holborn were taken over as Arab lodging houses, or cafés.

The Yemeni seamen who settled in their hundreds in Holborn and Laygate did not drink so there was less need for pubs.

Wapping Street, Shadwell Street and the Lawe Top were the home of the ‘Townenders’, or as the locals would say the ‘skeuytenders’ – this was probably the first part of the town to be lived in by fishermen and sailors. 

It is now the area around River Drive but used to be a warren of quays and courts, the oldest house in Shields dated from Tudor times. Conditions were basic. In Holborn there was no running water until the later part of the 19th century.

Women would carry a ‘skeel’ of water on their heads to have it filled at a ‘pant’ (private well). The skeel carried about three and a quarter gallons and would cost a farthing to fill’.

Two main storylines concern the depression of the 1920s and how it affects the mining and shipping industries, with tales about the 1921 and 1926 pit lockouts and the Mill Dam riots.

How much of the stories in your book are based on fact and how much is fiction ? 

’Shields was a major seaport and also a coal mining town. In 1921 over 2,000 men worked at St. Hilda’s, 3,400 at Harton, and 3,500 at Marsden collieries.

Lloyd Geroge had nationalised the mines for the war effort and pitmen had been earning good money but in 1921 he gave the mines back to the private owners.

They cut wages and increased the working hours – a hewer who had been earning nearly four pounds a week would now take home just over two pounds.

The colliery owners locked the pit gates and you only got back in if you accepted the new conditions – no one in their right mind would and the 1921 lock-out started. 

These troubles continued through the 20s ending with the National Strike of 1926. The three Shields collieries were out for between six to ten months, but the miners were starved into submission. Similar difficulties hit the shipping trade.

Yemeni seamen had been recruited in their thousands during the war and many gave their lives at sea. Many sailed from Shields, and after the war the returning demobbed ex-servicemen who were after a job at sea found themselves in competition with the Arab seamen.

There were riots in 1919 in Shields and also in Cardiff and Liverpool for the same reasons. 

The Yemeni seamen were unmarried; they did not drink and were bringing in good money – many local lasses fell for them – some wed their man, but others were unlucky and gave birth out of wedlock.

By the late twenties the Arab seamen had all but taken over Holborn and pubs gave way to lodging houses and cafés. The simmering tensions and the continuing difficulty of finding work at sea resulted in the Mill Dam Riots of 1930. 

This is the factual background – to create authentic tales of how life still went on I developed the characters from my previous book the The Five Stone Steps, brought in some new ones and weaved their lives into the stories of hardship and humour’.

Smart Touch TIFF File

There is a lot of humour in the book but also a lot of hardship – hard times and hard people – bare knuckle fights in the back lanes and pitch and toss at Trow Rocks.

Do you think that your book accurately describes the poverty, hardship and the way folk stuck together ?

’To put it into perspective, young people today might think that my life in the early ’50s was hard. No heating upstairs; no duvets on the bed – which meant ice cold white cotton sheets – bed socks and hot water bottles were the norm.

My mam or dad had to come downstairs to light the stove in the kitchen first thing in the morning. A bath once a week; one telly with only one channel to start with – get up to turn it on or to turn up the volume ! 

Life in the early 1900s, by comparison, was not only hard it was brutal – in 1906 there were 465 shoeless children in the town.

The Council did what it could – the Police set up the Shoeless Children Fund. Boots were provided – probably having learnt the hard way, the Police ensured that the boots had holes made in the leather at the top to prevent them ending up in the pawn shop. 

There was no such thing as five fruit and veg a day – bread and jam or dripping was a staple for many – folk ate tripe, brawn and even cow heel pie – as Titch Foster says, ‘When you’re hungry you’d eat owt.’

My Grandfather went down the mines at the age of twelve – the work was hard and dangerous. Fatalities and serious accidents were common particularly among the young lads who might have been thinking of something else and been hit by a tub, or got hooked to a cage as it was going up the shaft. 

All the pits had their boxing champions – unskilled, bare-knuckle sluggers for the most part. Drinking and gambling were common place which explains why there were so many pawn shops –  not necessarily a last resort for the housewife when the wages had gone over the bar counter, or lost an a Sunday morning at the pitch and toss schools at Trow Rocks. 

There was a hardness about people, men and women, which you probably don’t find now, but in the long terraced streets you’d know all your neighbours and folk would help each other out. They really were all in it together in those days’.


John Orton

Is ‘A Chill Wind off the Tyne’ the final book in the series, or can we expect another ?

A ‘Chill Wind does complete the series, Tales of Old South Shields. I’m taking a breather at the moment and certainly don’t have any immediate plans for another prequel or sequel. I do like writing so something else may crop up.

I’ve just had an email back from one of my friends who’s just finished A Chill Wind he said he didn’t want it to end and could I write a fourth! 

All images courtesy of South Tyneside Libraries.

A Chill Wind off the Tyne, on UKBookPublishing along with The Five Stone Steps and Blitz PAMs is on sale at The Word bookshop, South Shields.

You can also get it as a kindle or paperback from Amazon. The Book Depository offers free worldwide delivery if you’re an expat.

Interview by Gary Alikivi    October 2018


John Orton, Bobbies, Bookies & Beer, 1st October 2018.

Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.

Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.

Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.

Peter Mitchell, Life In a Northern Town, 9th August 2018.

Ray Spencer MBE, That’s Entertainment, 6th September 2018.

Why not subscribe to the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.

You will find the link on the ‘About’ page.

SOUL MAN – in conversation with North East actor Jamie Brown

Jamie Brown as Jack Ford - When The Boat Comes In

How did you get your latest role as Jack Ford in When the Boat Comes In ?

‘Ray Spencer, Director of The Customs House in South Shields had put it on my radar saying this is happening, why not put your hat in the ring? 

I had a good discussion with Katy Weir, who was lined up to direct the project – she had seen me in a few things I’d done, and we were fans of each other’s work. I suppose the rest is history.

It was a risk, there was pressure – I’d heard of the TV programme but didn’t fully anticipate how engaging and enigmatic James Bolam was when he played Jack Ford.

When I sat down and watched the show it was like, wow this is great, we’re getting working class values, women being the heads of households, supporting the miners on strike, shellshock after the war, homosexuality in the Armed Forces, all in the first episode! 

It blew my mind. The programme was made in the ’70s but his performance hasn’t aged, and the themes are still relevant today. There was a heap of expectation, but these are the types of roles that you want – the big, meaty characters – one’s that will hopefully be remembered’.

What is your background and how did you get into acting ?

‘I was born on the Leam Lane Estate in Gateshead in the mid ’80s. From 4 years old, I was stood in the street with a ball at my feet. The only religion was football, and we didn’t make ‘future plans’ – we made plans to escape.

You see, at the time, the area was seen as an underprivileged sort of place, but we were always happy and had just enough to make ends meet.

All the lads wanted to be footballers and make amounts of money they could only ever dream about, so every night after school was football.

Then at Roman Road Primary School, somebody noticed I could hold a tune in assembly.  After that, I was asked to sing in special assemblies, concerts, and by secondary school (Heworth Grange) I somehow ended up in the pantomime. It was my first ‘proper’ performance.

As well as the football, I was in the rugby team (fly-half) at the time, and the director thought it’d be a laugh to have me and the rest of the team prancing around as Robin Hood’s Merry Men...but then I somehow ended up as the dame!’

Did you watch anything on TV or did you attend any shows which inspired you ?

‘I loved the stories that were being told in films. There were certain actors, like Pacino and Day-Lewis, where you just went wow!  But they seemed to be on another planet – they didn’t seem accessible.

I never thought ‘I want to be that person,’ because they weren’t even on my radar of what was possible, you know.

Footballers looked more reachable – you could walk past St James’ Park – but Hollywood, and even London, seemed so far away. Also, because of the cost, and the culture of where I was brought up, it just didn’t seem open to someone like me. 

Music and sport were ways of expressing yourself – an escapism – and many kids were looking for that.  I was lucky, at my school we were all made to do Drama until at least Year 9.

Today, you are lucky to get to touch on it for a few lessons! But I got my G.C.S.E in Drama, A-levels in Performing Arts and, with the help of the Local Authority, I was able to afford a place at Bretton Hall in Yorkshire to train in Acting for three years’.

WTBCI-Web-Banner-1024x364 copy

What is it about drama that attracted you?

’I was fascinated at the thought of being able to step into other people’s shoes. Getting a chance to explore the decisions people make – to dive in and experience their lives as well as lead my own.

I once described it to a friend as being like collecting souls…we laughed, but it’s not as ridiculous as it first sounds really.

In my work to date, I have walked at least eight different people’s journeys through World War One, for example. It fascinates me. I quickly started to become attracted to what really matters, you know, deeper theatre over more commercial theatre – though there’s a place for both’.

What was your first professional job ?

‘I moved to London, and I got my first professional gig with Chapterhouse Theatre Company, who toured Shakespeare outdoors: castles, stately homes, National Trust sites – that sort of thing. It wasn’t well paid, but they provided accommodation, food, and travel, which is where a lot of money would go anyway I suppose.

It was a big adventure – I was a 21-year-old kid fresh out of drama school.  I hadn’t travelled much before, so I had nothing to lose.

The tour went around the UK, and we did several weeks in Ireland. It was great, everybody just mucked in. 

It was all out of the back of two vans: we threw the lights up, set the scenes, sorted the costumes, put the show on, then took it all back down the same night. Then, next night, another town.  

I remember one night, the rain was pouring down but six people still turned up to watch the show, with kagools on and brollies!

Very few shows were called off through bad weather. It was great, while some shows would have a few hundred in the audience others only a handful of people turned up – it was an education’.

How long did you stay in London ?

‘About six or seven years, though I was away touring throughout a lot of that. I kept pretty busy. One year I spent about ten months as Scooby-Doo!

Warner Brothers and A.E.G produced a feature-length episode to be performed live on stage, and we toured to around thirty #1 venues across the UK. Now, that sounds like cartoony fun, you know, but behind it all was pretty exhausting physical theatre.

It was also my first chance to perform on stages I’d dreamed of playing – Hammersmith Apollo, Sunderland Empire, Glasgow Kings, Edinburgh Playhouse, Birmingham Hippodrome, to name just a few.

I had an amazing time, and I gained financially from it – the glitz and glamour of the show was great, but I was hungry for more depth…I suppose you might call it artistic value’. 

How did you get involved with theatre at The Customs House in South Shields ?

‘Around 2010, I applied to audition for a part in The Machine Gunners musical. I was cast as Rudi, a German pilot, alongside a large cast of North-Eastern actors.

At the end of day one in rehearsal, veteran actor Donald McBride came up to me and said ‘You’ll do well, you.  Only piece of advice I can give you: just be nae bother. Be nae bother…and you’ll be reet’. 

This is a people business – I’ve been in it now for nearly 13 years and you can be as good or better than anybody else, but if you are a nightmare to work with nobody wants to know. Be nae bother…they were wise words’. 


Jackie Fielding

I saw you in The Man and the Donkey at The Customs House, how did that come about ?

’Off the back of The Machine Gunners, I was cast in the Romeo and Juliet play staged in South Marine Park, South Shields. Director Jackie Fielding (RIP) saw it, and later she was looking for a leading man to play John Simpson Kirkpatrick in The Man and the Donkey.

Viktoria Kay, a fellow actor and good friend, may have also put me on her radar, but, either way I ended up in an audition. I knew immediately that I’d met a kindred spirit.

I loved Jackie – I still do – and I’ll will always be thankful that she took a leap of faith and handed me my first leading start at The Customs House, and in the North-East.

That show was special – it was one of the first times where I felt the heart, and depth, and regional significance, that I had been looking for. It took theatre and performance to a whole different level for me: it changed my outlook.

Shortly after that, I came home and resettled in the North-East on a permanent basis. I’ve never looked back’. 

Jamie Brown as John Simpson Kirkpatrick - The Man and The Donkey 1

What’s coming next ?

‘Well, When the Boat Comes In is having another run early next year (March) before the sequel premieres next September. People are constantly asking when Hadaway Harry is returning – and I’m told it’ll happen at some point, so we’ll see.

I’ve also started doing some directing over the past few years, and I’m currently involved in the development of something in the offing between local production company ION Productions and The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation for next year.

So, there are irons in fires – it’s an exciting time to be involved in theatre in the North-East’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi    October 2018.


Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.

Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.

Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.

Peter Mitchell, Life In a Northern Town, 9th August 2018.

Ray Spencer MBE, That’s Entertainment, 6th September 2018.

Why not check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.

GUARDIAN RECORDING STUDIO #4 Metal on Tyne with Mythra, Saracen & Hollow Ground

Guardian Sound Studios were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK.

There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings.

Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well-known recording studio.

From 1978 some of the bands who recorded in Guardian were: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7”.

1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax.

From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior had made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

MYTHRA – Death and Destiny 7”EP 1979. Tracks: Death and Destiny, Killer, Overlord, UFO.


JOHN ROACH (guitar): ‘With Mythra we saved some cash from our gig money with the intention of recording a demo tape to see if we could get any interest from record companies.

We checked out Impulse and Guardian studios and decided to go with Guardian. From what I remember we were offered actual vinyl records for our demos, rather than cassette tapes’. 

MAURICE BATES (bass):  ‘The first recording session was a new experience and opened our eyes to another part of being in a band. The owner Terry Gavaghan was more of an engineer than producer, he just said to us no slow songs lads keep it up this is good ! 

JOHN ROACH: ‘Guardian Studios was in a very small, terraced house in Durham. If you entered from the front street you ended up in the main recording room, with a very small isolation room for the drums.

Through a door you entered the control room which was actually the back of the house. Terry Gavaghan lived next door. He kept disappearing during the recording, going for something to eat or answer the phone to the big record companies!

MAURICE BATES: ‘We slept upstairs to the studio so we could get on with recording straight away in the morning. But as we were recording our own bit separately, everyone else had to leave the studio so we ended up in the pub! Happy days’.

JOHN ROACH: ‘We released the vinyl EP in November 1979. It is well documented that this was one of the very first records to be released of what would become known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.

HOLLOW GROUND – Flying High 7’ 1980. Tracks: Flying High, Warlord, Rock On, Don’t Chase the Dragon.


JOHN LOCKNEY (drums): ‘Because we had our own material, we were trying to get the money together to get in the studio and record it. It was so nerve wracking then cos we were green as grass. Doing overdubs and things something we had never done before’. 

MARTIN METCALF (guitar): ‘One night we went to a Raven gig at Newcastle Mayfair and Steve Thompson who was producing at NEAT studios then, pulled me to one side and said there’s a deal at NEAT if you want.

I liked the idea but told him we had just sorted something out with Guardian. We went down to the studio in Durham and recorded four tracks. It cost around £500’. 

JOHN LOCKNEY: ‘It really was great. I mean you’ve been brought up and bought singles. Now suddenly you’ve got one of your own. We were proud of the songs. We think they still stand up today and we went round selling them to local record shops. It’s still one of the proudest things I’ve ever done you know’.

MARTIN METCALF: ’I still remember the smell of the brown cork tiles in the studio and having to Sellotape the headphones on my head when recording as they kept falling off ! In hindsight maybe NEAT would have turned out better for us in the long run’.

JOHN LOCKNEY: ‘We went back to record another two for a compilation album Roksnax. The production and the way we played was better then.

We weren’t as green and went back again and done another four tracks for demos to flog around record companies. You can tell the difference how confident we were with more experience in the studio’.

SARACEN – Roksnax compilation LP 1980. Tracks: Speed of Sound, Fast Living, Feel Just the Same, Setting the World Ablaze.


STEVE DAWSON (guitar): ‘We went into Guardian Studios where our friends, Mythra, had recorded their Death and Destiny EP.

Most of us were friends from school or through the scene, you know, being thrown together in this cauldron of New Wave of British Heavy Metal. We booked a day there and recorded three songs’. 

LOU TAYLOR (vocals): ‘I saw it as moving up to the next level and felt excited to be in the studio and something happening for Saracen. When we went down to the studio we first drove past the place and double backed on ourselves to find it.

It looked just like an ordinary house, later we found it was two terraced houses knocked into one’.

STEVE DAWSON: ‘After the initial recording session, we were invited to attend a meeting with the owner Terry Gavaghan who proposed an idea to us about putting our tracks on a compilation album. It was going to feature local bands Saracen, Samurai and Hollow Ground. So we decided yeah let’s go for it’. 

LOU TAYLOR: ‘I can’t remember much from the sessions apart from recording my vocals quite late at night and the drum booth being tiny. When Dave was behind the drums, we had to pass him refreshments every so often as it was such a tight squeeze to get in.

Terry was forever nipping out of the studio and coming back with a smelly cheese sandwich or something to eat, and he loved to talk about the resident ghost !

STEVE DAWSON: ‘The album was basically a ‘live’ performance in the studio with minimal overdubs. I spent my 21st birthday in that place…I’ll never get it back!’

LOU TAYLOR: ‘On reflection we might have been better off recording at NEAT, as they were more loud and proud, you know the whole crash, bang and don’t forget the wallop’.

If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios, it’ll be much appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.


MYTHRA: Still Burning 13th February 2017.

Lou Taylor SARACEN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

1980: The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside, 11th February 2018.

ROKSNAX: Metal on the Menu, 9th March 2018.


#1 TYGERS OF PAN TANG May 3rd 2018

#2 SPARTAN WARRIOR May 20th 2018

#3 STEVE THOMPSON (Songwriter & Producer) July 11th 2018

WILDFLOWER – making a documentary about George Orwell’s wife, South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy

SEPT 25 1905 copy

In May 2012 I was in the Local Studies library when the librarian Anne Sharp showed me a South Shields birth certificate with the name Eileen O’Shaughnessy. She wasn’t sure but thought Eileen was the wife of author George Orwell. (real name Eric Arthur Blair).

A few weeks passed and I was doing some research in the library when I saw a display at the back of the room that Anne had put together. There were three large boards.

On the left was a birth certificate and census records. To the right was a photo of George Orwell, a newspaper cutting and a picture of a cemetery in Newcastle. This looks interesting.

In the middle was a large black and white photograph from the Spanish Civil War, featuring about a dozen men standing near sandbags and a machine gun.

Then I noticed a dark-haired woman crouching behind the gun. I looked closer. Is that Eileen ? I got goose bumps looking at the photo. What was it about the image? I needed to know more. 

close up copy

There wasn’t much information out there about O’Shaughnessy, just a few bits and pieces that had been mentioned in Orwell books.

So, there was extensive research over the next year or so. Phone calls, letters, checking and re-checking details. Interviews on camera were arranged around the country – one led to another and to another.

It felt like being gently nudged along to find more about her. Weeks and months passed, and I never come across any obstacles. Everybody who was asked wanted to be part of the documentary and were only too happy to help.

Then I put the research to one side as I was also working on another couple of projects, this helps in the film making process. Spending time on something else gives you space away from a project and then you can return to it with fresh eyes and ears.

Autumn 2013 came, and DVD sales of previous documentaries funded more time to start piecing together the film about Eileen.  

Who knew that a library visit in 2012 would take me and my camera, from South Shields to Sunderland, Newcastle, Stockton, Warwickshire, Oxford, London and finally Barcelona.

I remember with the camera in my backpack walking through Barcelona Airport thinking ‘how did I get here?’ It seemed so effortless, the whole process just fell into place.

On 26th March 2014 I screened for the first time the documentary about Eileen O’Shaughnessy in the theatre of South Shields Central Library where I first met Eileen in that photograph taken during the Spanish Civil War.

The Orwell Society, and Eileen’s son Richard Blair, who is interviewed in the documentary, came up North to South Shields to watch the film. The Society also arranged a screening of the film on the Isle of Jura where George Orwell wrote his masterpiece ‘1984’.

Gary Alikivi    June 2018.


Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.

Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.

Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.

Why not check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.

BOBBIES, BOOKIES & BEER – author John Orton talks about the stories of police in 1920’s South Shields


In times of hardship when people had next to nothing, they were forced into a world of low-level crime. Burglary, prostitution and gambling all appear in ‘The Five Stone Steps’ a fictionalised account of life in South Shields Police Force during the 1920’s.

I asked author John Orton, who is originally from South Shields but now lives near Bristol, where did he find the inspiration and how long did it take to write the book ?

’A long time, Gary. After I’d retired from work due to stress I’d started writing as a hobby – just to keep myself occupied, really. I’d taken up family history and become fascinated by the story of my forbears who’d arrived in Shields in the 1890s.

My Grandmother, a real Geordie Hinny, used to come round to our house every afternoon for tea – once she started talking, she never stopped.

Her family had come from Norfolk and landed in Maxwell Street. I had an idea of writing a whodunit set in Shields in the 1900s. I needed some info about the police in Shields and thought that my very good friend, Tommy Gordon might be able to help.

His father had served in Shields Police and Tommy told me some of his stories.

Tommy rummaged around on his bookshelves and pulled out a dog-eared manuscript of his dad’s ‘Memories’ of his days in the Shields Police. Tommy’s Dad, Jock, had gone to live with his son when he was too old to look after himself.

He was depressed and at a loose end. Tommy and his wife Marilyn suggested that as he was always telling old stories then why didn’t he write them down as ‘memoirs’.

So, he did. Of an evening, sitting at a table by his electric fire, a glass of whisky at hand, he’d write down his reminiscences’.


Thomas Renton Gordon.

‘When I started reading them, I could almost hear the gravelly voice, and smell the whisky fumes, as I discovered the lost world of 1920s Shields – pubs galore where Bobbies got their pint, bookies and runners on every street corner, working girls who used to hang out at the Market Place, and so on.

It was the same world that my grandmother used to talk about – apart from the girls !

At that time, I had no idea of writing a book but thought that this very important piece of social history ought to be preserved. The ‘Memories’ themselves were just that – a couple of pages a night, not in any particular order, just what came into Jock’s mind.

I set about transcribing them, putting the stories into some sort of order, cutting out the duplication, and doing some very light-handed editing’.

With attention to detail of real locations in Holborn, Laygate and Tyne Dock. How much research did you do ?

’Looking back, the research probably took a lot more time than the actual writing. In transcribing Jock’s handwritten memoirs, I would sometimes have difficulty in reading proper names, like streets and pubs.

I’d bought some old 1900’s Maps of Shields to help with my family history research and these were often my first source of reference.

I was born in 1949 at Wayside on the Marsden council estate and knew the general layout of the old parts of Shields on the Lawe Top, Laygate and Tyne Dock before the slum clearances of the 60s and 70s.

The very old parts of Shields along the riverside, Holborn, Wapping Street and Shadwell Street had all been demolished in the thirties.

Looking at a map did not give you much of a feel for these old places and that’s where old photographs came in. When I last visited Shields some fifteen years ago, I went to the local history library where they have thousands of old photos and postcards.

This invaluable archive is now available online at  and was one of the major tools in my research’.


Holborn, South Shields.

‘Census returns for 1911 and the Kelly Street Directories, were all useful in getting an idea of life in the cobbled terraced streets of Shields. I would research each story as I went along.

I am not a writer who plots everything out in advance from beginning to end. I start with an idea and then develop this as the story progresses through the eyes of the characters. What would he or she have done next ?

This sometimes caused a problem when I needed to check something. For example, were Woodbine tabs smoked in the 1920s ? (I learned the hard way never to make assumptions.)

In checking that out I might come cross something else which would mean that I needed to make some changes in an earlier chapter’. 

How much of the book is fact or fiction ?

I met Tommy’s father once. Just a quick hello and goodbye although he left a distinct impression. He still spoke with a Glaswegian accent and was quite a character.

But when I started writing the book with him as the narrator, I realised how little I knew about him. So, I decided to give him a fictional name mainly to give me free rein to develop his character as each chapter progressed.

For the same reasons I gave all characters in the book fictional names apart from one or two who only make the odd appearance. Some of them were criminals or shady characters who might still have family in the town.

The fictional Doyle family, for example, was based on a real Shields family of villains.

The father was a pimp, the mother a prostitute, the older brother and sister were sent down for incest and the youngest lad ran away to join the Foreign Legion. This is very much the pattern of the book’. 


Market Place, South Shields.

Are the stories based on real events ?

‘All the stories are based on events that really happened, but I have created some characters, and changed some story lines to carry the tale along.

I always strove to ensure that what the narrator was saying sounded authentic. For example, in a Pair of Boots young Billy Ruffle is caught up in a hunger march from Jarrow to Shields.

He steals a pair of boots, he is chased and caught by the mounted officer and marched back to the station, he is birched, finally he is encouraged by the Station Sergeant to take up boxing.

In the ‘Memoires’ there was a hunger march in Shields and the Police charged the demonstrators with truncheons drawn.

On another occasion a thief was caught by the mounted Polis who threatened to take his horse up the back stairs and through the flat where the culprit was hiding unless he was handed over.

Jock Gordon did witness the last birching in Shields, and boxing was a popular sport. The character who I call Billy Ruffle was the thread that brought all these events together into one chapter’.

Did any of Jock’s stories stand out ?

‘One of the tales that caught my eye centred on the fact that around the Market Place, publicans would leave out a little pot of whisky by the back door for the bobby on night shift.

It had been known for a young bobby not on a whisky beat, to ‘poach’ a pot – the worst trick in the book, according to Jock, and one that would have repercussions.

I thought that with a bit of work it could become a good little story, and I wrote A Nip of Whisky.

It was then that the idea of The Five Stone Steps was born. Each story was free standing, but together they told the story of Tom ‘Jock’ Gordon’s early years in the Police in the 1920s.

The title ‘The Five Stone Steps’ was a no brainer – it was a legend in Shields that whenever a culprit came up in court with black eyes, broken bones, the explanation given was that he’d accidentally tripped down the five stone steps that led into the building.

Each story presented its own problems. Jock only ever gave the bare minimum, and I would have to fully research the background, and create the odd character, or story line to fill out a tale.

It took well over a year before the first draft was finished. It then went through several major rewrites before I had a version I was happy with’.

Mill Dam

Mill Dam, South Shields

How much do the stories reflect the times ?

’The old photos are black and white – as well as helping the reader to visualize Shields as it then was, this also gives a period feel.  Life was a lot harder in those days and so were the people.

They would have a laugh and although they would suffer when times were hard, they just got on with it. Jock Gordon had served three years in the trenches and survived.

He would have seen needless death, and the agonies of the wounded. He told things as they happened, without any pathos or melodrama.

Ordinary working people in Shields in the twenties and thirties lived lives that we would find extremely harsh if not unbearable. A pitman would work an eight-hour shift in the pitch dark with only his lamp, or his pit pony for company.

His wages would not always feed his wife and children. Most families lived in two rooms in a flat with a cold tap in the yard and a netty they shared with the neighbours.

Street betting was rife, as punters dreamt of the big win and men would spend their wages in the boozers to forget their troubles. Families and neighbours stuck together and shared good times and bad.

The stories in the Five Stone Steps do not deliberately dwell on the light and shade of life 100 years ago, they merely reflect it’.

There is a story of a fire in a pub near the station where the police manage to ‘rescue’ a large quantity of alcohol… it found its way back to the station. Did you find yourself laughing along with the stories and characters ? 

‘Yes, and I still do when I re-read a chapter. The ability to laugh at someone else’s misfortune is a natural way of lightening the load of everyday life. Like Inspector Mullins, a stickler for the correct writing up of incidents in a PC’s notebook, is on the lookout for mistakes. 

Ruth Lunn was editor and proof-reader. She rung me up after a few days of receiving the manuscript and said that she was enjoying the book and had disturbed the others in the office with her laughing.

In my serious voice I told her off: ‘You’re not allowed to laugh when you’re proof reading, Ruth – you have to take it seriously’ and then laughed with her’. 

Were there many stories that you left out of the book ?

’Jock Gordon was a Scot who joined the Shields force after the Great War and his take on Shields is that of a newcomer to the town. His memories include first impressions not only of the Police but also of the town itself.

He reflects a lot on his early days and the bulk of his early stories appear in The Five Stone Steps – covering the period from 1919 to about 1924.

He did of course continue his accounts through the twenties and thirties and made a brief mention of the War, but it was clear to me that his fondest memories were of his early days on the beat’.

What else you been working on ?

‘After I’d completed the first version of The Five Stone Steps several years passed before I took the plunge and published the book. During this time, I put my hand to writing a sequel using Jock’s later stories.

I was never really happy with it and it went on the back burner until after I’d published The Five Stone Steps and then Blitz PAMs – the blitz on Shields through the eyes of a Police Auxiliary Messenger.

I then took it up again, but it took a long time, with several complete re-writes, before the sequel evolved into A Chill Wind off the Tyne which is both a prequel and a sequel, completes the stories begun in The Five Stone Steps, but as seen through the eyes of characters from the book, or new ones that appear for the first time’.


John Orton

Where is the book available to buy ?

The Five Stone Steps on UK Book Publishing is available on paper back and Kindle at Amazon. It can also be obtained at the Book Depository which gives free postage worldwide on all sales.

You can order a copy from The Word. It’s also available for loan at The Word and other libraries in South Shields.

The two other books that are companions to the Five Stone Steps, Blitz Pams and my latest A Chill Wind of the Tyne are also on UK Book Publishing’. 

All images courtesy of South Tyneside Libraries.

Interview by Gary Alikivi    September 2018.


Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.

Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.

Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.

Peter Mitchell, Life In a Northern Town, 9th August 2018.

Ray Spencer MBE, That’s Entertainment 6th September 2018.

Why not check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.