Northern Voices Community Projects were set up in 1986 to give people who are denied a voice, a platform to express their views and experiences of living in the North East.
Peter Dixon and Keith Armstrong are behind NVCP and we arranged to meet in a pub along the River Tyne to find out more. The Alum House sit’s next to South Shields ferry, a handy place to meet as they are both from the North side of the Tyne. I recently talked to Keith and featured his interview on this blog, in it he talks about his writing and poetry. In this new blog Peter pick’s out some highlights and tell’s a few stories from his background.
I mentioned that the last time I interviewed anyone here it was Antony Bray, drummer of black metal band Venom…I remember Tygers of Pan Tang and all that heavy metal said Peter. But I’ll tell you about the time I worked during the day’s of the last gasps of hot metal (laughs).
From 1975-80 I worked for Northern Press newspapers which included the Wallsend News, Whitley Bay Guardian, Blyth News and where I was based, The Shields Gazette art department. We produced the graphics for adverts and things like that. This was in the day when old presses were still being used, it really was the last gasp of hot metal!
What people tend to forget is that in The Shields Gazette you had a major employer situated right in the town centre that produced the whole newspaper under one roof. About 250 people were working there with proper jobs and getting proper money. All buying their sandwiches, birthday cards and whatever in the shop’s right there in the centre of town. There was a little squad of us would regularly get in The Stags Head and the Dougie Vaults spending our money on a few beers. Sadly all those workers have gone now.
Before Northern Press I done some stuff for Vince Rea at The Bede Art Gallery in Jarrow and also designed single and album record covers for the Newcastle band Punishment of Luxury.
How did you get involved with them ? I was doing background scenery for The Mad Bongo Theatre Company and a member of the band, Brian Bond got in touch. Then I met Neville Luxury and the drummer Red Helmet. They done a single called Puppet of Life and Tony Visconti (Bowie, Bolan & Morrissey producer) reviewed it for Sounds newspaper. He described the sleeve that I done and said I was sick (laughs).
I also co-edited a monthly magazine called The Informer. That was distributed around the North East from Hexham, up to Blyth and down to Tyneside. We done around 10,000 copies a month and it ran from 2000-2010. It was originally for The Tyne Theatre but it became too expensive to run so became a magazine in it’s own right. It was a What’s On and live performance mag. It was meant as a gig guide that you could roll up and put in your pocket.
I ran it with my co-editor. He collated the live dates and information where I designed and wrote the press releases and interviews. We both used to sell advertising. Again running it became expensive so it folded.
What is the background to the Northern Voices project ? I worked with Keith who was a Community Arts worker in Peterlee and we always had some kind of publishing activity going on. It was an end result to our work in design, poetry and writing. Back in the ‘70s we were involved with Tyneside Street Press which was a bit radical. There was a whole collective of people working on it. A bit like your punk fanzines, printed on A4 but it was news stories we were doing.
Yeah it was a time when people could make their own papers and booklets said Keith. The idea was we could control the whole process from writing, printing and publish it all ourselves. It was a place where people could express themselves in their own words. We had connections with other city’s that were bringing out alternative newspapers.
Peter added… A lot of poetry was going on then plus the art stuff. It was part of the pop culture, challenging the existing order and critical of what was happening. But there was always an interest of the indigenous population and what was going on.
Yeah said Keith it was the spirit of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the alternative idea’s sprouting up a bit like the music that was around then. There was a distinct northern voice, we always had something to say. It’s a fundamental idea and very democratic.
Keith talked about an earlier version they produced called Strong Words he said it lasted a few years and done a number of publications… It sold around 3,500 copies which was really good for us then, we sold it worldwide (laughs)…including South Shields. We used to go around interviewing people rather like what you are doing now for your blog. Some people were quite chuffed you know…Somebody’s bothered to knock on my door and asked about my life. Otherwise it would go unrecorded.
Did you receive any funding ? We didn’t go to funding bodies then, we were autonomous. It gave us a freedom. We put together a publication called Missile Village which was about Spadeadam, a military test base, and it’s impact on the village of Gilsland in Northumberland. The Blue Streak Missile was tested there and at Woomera in Australia during the ‘70s. The general ethos is to give people a voice so we talked to the local villagers about the idea that the Government had decided to have a missile on their doorsteps. A farmer told us that it’s nowt but a puff of smoke.
Peter brings the story up to date and talks about work they are doing now… Mostly it’s history books funded by North Tyneside Council. Things on The Hartley Pit disaster, George Stephenson, the Wooden Dollie’s of North Shields and writer Jack Common. To an extent it’s easier now to do the whole thing yourself rather than farming it out to someone else. Not like the old days of laying it out for typesetting. The difference from the old days to now is that we are doing full colour. Back then a lot of it was single colour. To an extent there is a satisfaction of producing it yourself.
Keith checks his watch Well we’ve missed the ferry we’ll have to wait for the next one, might as well get another pint in. As for Northern Voices, yes we’ll keep plugging away.
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Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2019.