DIAMOND GEEZER – with former music manager & promoter Jim Sculley

There was one particular savage night when everyone seemed to be fighting. I was worried about one lad who’s face was just awash with blood. I wiped the blood with a tea towel. ‘You been knifed mate?’ I asked. ‘Nah’ he replied ‘I nutted someone and his teef stuck in me forehead’Who said working in the music biz was a glamourous job ? Jim Sculley was born in West Hartlepool, County Durham where he had a decent education…But when I bought my first guitar, studying went out of the window (laughs). Jim joined local band The Mariners as lead guitarist in 1962 and was working at Hartlepool Steelworks at the time…After lot’s of gigs and personnel changes, the band changed its name to The Electric Plums. Then in 1964 I went for a proper job and answered an advert to train at an old established jewellers shop called Lamb’s. He was a great employer who trained me well and sent me to night school in Billingham to study Gemmology, the science of precious stones.

I repaid him by doing the dirty on him by going in business with my night school teacher. We set up a jewellers in Billingham Town Centre in 1971. I found out afterwards from an ex-colleague at Lambs that the boss admired my bravery for setting up our own business and bore me no malice at all!

Business boomed and they quickly gained 3 more jewellery shops and 2 more partners… I was still dabbling in music at the same time but by then had left the Electric Plums to join a girl fronted band called The Partizans. Around ‘68 we changed name to Whisky Mack. This band was good doing night clubs and social clubs, supporting known artistes such as Karl Denver, the Dallas Boys and Tony Christie.

The band were offered a German club tour but Jim thought it was time to call it a day…The shops were doing well and I couldn’t jeopardise my future for a few months gigging abroad. So around late ‘72 we trained up a new guitarist for the tour and I said goodbye. But a few years later, I was back on the road in a couple of duo’s…couldn’t leave the old grease paint behind (laughs).

How did you get involved in promoting ? I wasn’t a great follower or even an avid listener of rock music at that time. However I’d got into the habit of going to rock gigs at Thornaby Cons club and being a guitarist, started to appreciate the quality of musicianship in rock. This was around ’79. At the club fans were telling me that there was a lack of venues in the area, and that local promoters were finding it difficult to coax new bands with any pedigree. A light lit up! Could I make any money at it, and did I fancy the challenge?

What venue did you use for the first gig’s you promoted ? I was putting the word around for local bands to play my new weekly gig in The Swan ballroom in Billingham. Getting an agency licence wasn’t easy in those days, there were financial checks, but within a month J.S. Promotions & Agency was born. ‘Rock At The Swan’ was an instant success with local bands queuing up to play. They would take a percentage of the door take after costs were taken off for an advert in the local press and pa hire.

After a few months we were getting requests from bands from all over the country due to word of mouth. And not only from bands. Agents were wanting to send bands with newly signed record deals on the road, but were having difficulty finding promoters who would take a chance on unknown bands. Another light bulb moment hit me and I jumped at the opportunity. Provide new blood for the fans and possibilities for local bands to support a signed band.

I asked myself I’m working with big agents who need venues to blood their bands. Why don’t I track down more venues and offer these big agents a full tour for their new bands. It made sense because these agents didn’t really want to take time to blood these bands on the road. They would wait till when the album was out and selling, then take over and put them into major venues.

So I set to work on the telephone and scanning through tour adverts in Sounds and Kerrang. Eventually sorting myself a good amount of venues that I knew I could form into different size tours. It helped when talking to each promoter that I was promoting a venue, same as them, and knew the score. I could be trusted and they knew that. It was a very important point.

By 1981 J.S. Promotions & Agency was well established. I was sending bands here there and everywhere. The Swan gig was bouncing and the jewellery shop was doing great. I often look back and wonder how the hell I kept myself going! Suppose it was because I was still young and kept quite fit. Be a different story today (laughs).

Did you book any big name bands at The Swan ? I ran that Swan gig for about 7 or 8 years and some biggish names have been on that stage. It was a nice venue, being a ballroom, and a decent sized fire regulation limit of 200 plus people. Bands like The Groundhogs featuring Tony MePhee were regulars and would always fill the place. I worked them a lot tour-wise. And what about this for an eye opener of a gig – in 1983 aged 17, son of Led Zep’s drummer John Bonham, Jason formed his band Airrace.

I got a call from his agent asking for a Billingham Swan gig as part of the band’s first tour. Money no problem, they’d just accept percentage door-take. But on one condition. So that the band would be judged on their merits and not the Bonham name, no mention of Jason Bonham could be used in any advertising. Of course I agreed and the band turned up on the date…in a great big pantechnicon van!! Wow!!

I have never been so up and close to a back line like it. Wall to wall, ceiling to ceiling Marshall amps. Not for volume but for clarity. Great sound, great gig, and a reasonably full room, rock fans aren’t stupid, they read the rock mags. And I have to say what a genial gentleman Jason was, no airs or graces, happy to chat to all the fans after the gig.

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New Wave of British Heavy Metal was at it’s peak during the early 80’s. Did you come across any of the bands in the Teeside area like Axis or White Spirit ? In 1982 I’d taken a shine to a rock band I’d given a few gigs to, Black Rose, they were in the Iron Maiden kind of mould at the time and wrote their own material. They had a manager called Barry Clapp but were disappointed they weren’t making any progress. They asked me to manage them. I talked with Barry who gave me his blessing, admitting he’d had enough.

By 6 months we had a single out on the Teesbeat label called No Point Runnin’ coupled with Sucker For Your Love. One of the Sounds reviewers loved it and wrote a nice piece about it which propelled it to no.19 in the rock charts. The band then appeared on two compilation EP’s in the same year. One Take No Dubs on Neat Records, and the other on Guardian Records, called Roxcalibur.

(The album included Battleaxe, Satan & Marauder. ‘One Take No Dubs’ had Alien, Avenger & Hellanbach).

In 1984 the Midlands rock label Bullet Records signed the band. They produced a self-titled EP, also the Boys Will Be Boys album. A single of the same name was taken off the album. All through this studio activity the band were gigging heavily in the UK and Holland where they have a strong fan base. I went with them to a gig in the Dynamo Club in Eindhoven. Brilliant gig.

Coming back from that gig a funny thing happened at the Dover customs. Me and 4 band members were in my Mercedes. We were kept at least half an hour, as the officers were searching the car, under it, in the boot, under the bonnet. They couldn’t believe that a long haired heavy metal band would not have something suspicious on them especially travelling from HollandI had an awful time explaining to the customs officers that none of the band actually smoked, rarely drank and nobody actually bought anything from duty free (laughs).

In 1985 Bullet folded so the band returned to Neat Records and recorded a superb EP titled Nightmare. Then a year later…eureka! The band were noticed in the USA. Neat Records engineered a deal with Dominion Records (an offshoot of the massive K-Tel Records) for a studio album recorded at Neat. Walk It How You Talk It, was pressed, packaged and ready to be distributed. We were in talks to arrange an American tour. After all the hard work since 1982 we’d made it.

Then a bombshell phone call from Neat. The powers that be in America hadn’t done their homework. There was already a band called Black Rose who’d registered their name in the States, they were threatening to sue. Our label Dominion Records took water in and pulled the deal. Neat wouldn’t fight it, so everything was scrapped. Not long after, myself and the band parted company. Gutted to say the least.

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Did this disappointment put you off being a manager/promoter ? No. I managed The Pauline Gillan Band, from about 1984. I knew two members who lived in the same town as me, Bilingham. Davy Little, a great ex-Axis guitarist, and Chris Wing on bass who could play anything you gave him. He wasn’t called the Wizz for nothing. I’d caught the band at a couple of gigs and was impressed. They asked me along to a rehearsal and I think we all knew when I left them that I’d be their manager.

I had them gigging extensively right through the UK. Including gigs at the London Marquee. We were contacted by a promoter in France who was organising a music festival at a place called Neuvic not far from the Dordogne region. He’d heard about the band through the music press and decided we would add nicely to the festival line-up. Actually we ended up as number 2 to the headline band.

It was a magic time both for the band and the fans. In 1985 we managed to secure an album deal with Powerstation Records based in York. The album Hearts of Fire was recorded in Fairview Studios in Willerby near Hull. While recording the album, Gerry Marsden of the Pacemakers fame popped his head in. ‘Can I pinch 10 min’s of your recording time lads, I’m appearing locally and I need to record an advertising jingle’. Well 10 min’s later, that was all the recording done for the day because Gerry insisted on taking all of us, our roadies, the recording technician, him, his management and entourage down to the pub in the village for the rest of the day. Booze and snacks all paid for. And what a gentleman he was, so friendly.

Gerry told us a great story about one of the pop successes of that time Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who had a number one hit with Relax. On the B side was Ferry Across The Mersey which of course was written by Gerry himself, and that he’d received thousands of pounds in PRS royalties. ‘I love that band’ he laughed.

Did you promote any punk gigs ? There was a few gigs that were memorable for the wrong reasons. Many punk gigs, big names, but mostly trouble with a capital T. Around 1980/82 I was approached by a guy called Don who had just bought the then defunct Rock Garden club which was one part of the Marimba night club in Middlesbrough. Now having owned some before Don knew everything about pubs and night clubs, but knew nothing about the live music scene. So he asked me, adding a financial carrot, to book bands and run live music nights. I agreed but advised him that a new name would be a good idea. So it was a warm welcome to The Cavern.

As part of our licence the Police made us search the punks for weapons and glue, the preferred drug of the day for punks. My missus Marg would handle the takings and tickets at the door and take the glue from them. We weren’t allowed to keep the glue, but return it to them after the gig. One night we couldn’t help laughing when this little 5 foot skinhead surrendered his polythene bag from his sock, then quipped ‘Now dont forget will ye…mine’s the Evo Stick’ (laughs).

The Rock Garden had always done well with punk bands and there was still a good punk fan base in Cleveland, so I decided to alternate heavy rock with punk nights. But battling was always on the cards at punk gigs – never at rock gigs.
First night at The Cavern, if my memory serves me well but I’m not absolutely sure, was well known punks The Destructors supported by a local band. We had a strong security crew (about 8 men) one was a friend, Ron Gray who was an ex-European kick boxing champion. As it happens on that first night, we needed them all! We’d got word through a contact that a mob was coming down who had bad blood with another load of fans. Still I wasn’t worried, we had plenty of cover didn’t we ?

Support band had only been on about 5 minutes when the crowd split into two armies. A bit like the parting of that biblical sea. And then the charge! Marg was stood on a beer crate in the corner directing our bouncers, screaming ‘over there’ and ‘side of the stage’ and then opening the emergency door for me and the lads to eject the brawlers. She was a good help on band nights.

My claim to fame was to convince the Police to allow me to book the Angelic Upstarts who’d been banned in Cleveland for over a year. I knew the police were pleased with our record of not allowing any trouble to spill outside and that was the reason we were given permission to stage this particular show. And what a cracker it was, and believe it or not hardly any crowd trouble.
Other memorable bands were GBH, Penetration and Conflict. I liked Colin the singer of Conflict. He insisted we keep the entrance fee down so that his fans could afford it, even taking a smaller purse himself.

Did you promote punk gig’s at any other venues ?
Early 80’s I was co-promoting a punk gig in the ballroom of the Park Hotel in Redcar and managed to attract a really well known punk band from the late 70s, UK Subs. I booked local band Dogsbody or was it Dogsflesh as support to bring a few extra punters in.
Anyway one of the Subs members copped off with the girlfriend of one of the support band and took her to a room upstairs where the band where staying for the night. The support band went upstairs and a huge battle ensued with carpets ruined with blood and drink. It took an hour or so to restore order. Then the Park Hotel manager presents me with a bill for a huge amount. I can’t remember how much but remember shaking in my boots. As promoter I could have been held responsible in some ways I suppose. But I turned on the Subs road manager and threatened to get the police and the newspapers involved, which would probably curtail or cancel the rest of their tour. Anyway he rang the band’s manager who agreed to foot the bill. Job done. I tried hard to stick to rock gigs after all this trouble, but have to admit the memories of punk will always bring a smile.

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If you can choose one, what is the best gig you have promoted ? Slade in about 1984 at Durham University’s Student Union Hall. Massive sell out, queues right down the road. Great gig but didn’t get to meet them. Went to the dressing room straight after the gig but they’d already left for the hotel.

Have you any regrets as a promoter? Turned down a Tina Turner gig as part of her resurgence tour. Thought the fee was too high. A couple of month later Private Dancer released and the rest is history. That was my Decca/Beatles moment!

There is a regrets number two. I was in the Marquee Club with one of my bands in 1985 and took a call from Bronze Records who wanted to show me a band. I went to Camden next day to see them and basically it was a country & western star, can’t remember the name. Anyway, country wasn’t my scene so turned it down. Then he produced a picture of Tom Petty who was coming over soon to tour. The price was reasonable but I knew he hadn’t released anything for about 3 years so turned that down too. Another Decca/Beatles moment!

What does music mean to you ? For all I was playing on stage continuously for about 17 years, and it was part of my life for so long after that -management, agency and promotions, I don’t really listen to a lot of it nowadays. Weird eh!

But after thinking a little more about it, I’ve concluded that it’s the actual making of music, the playing of it, watching other people playing it – construction really. I was never one for lyrics, it was always the tune, the riffs and chord structures that got me excited. That’s why I tend to like songs with a nice hook to them.

I played my guitar at home quite often untill I had a medical problem with my finger which made it totally inflexible. I can’t even form a chord now, which actually makes me quite miserable! My last time playing on stage was backing local singer Johny Larkin at a Help For Heroes charity gig about 7 years ago.(pic. below)

Having said that we’ve booked both days of the upcoming Hardwick Hall festival. And I do watch Fridays on BBC 4 and we went to The Sage to see Mott the Hoople a couple of months ago. Sod it … looks like music still means a lot to me.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.

SECRETS and LIES – based on the life of Baron Avro Manhattan

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I came across Avro Manhattan by accident. I was in the local studies department of South Shields Library flicking through the files looking for South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy, I was making a documentary about her life with the author George Orwell. The files are in alphabetical order and before the O’s landed on the M’s.

From research I wrote a script for the film Secrets & Lies (below). A blog from July 2018 add’s details on how I put the film together.

If you want to check out the 12 min film go to my You Tube channel at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AITGzGiC-yU

 

START

Secrets & Lies

Have you heard about the devil having the best tunes ? Well, he also has the best stories. This is a story about my journey, my obsession… my destiny. You could say it was written in the stars.

It was 1990 when I died at our home in South Shields, my friends had a service for me at the local church, and they buried me in a cemetery in Durham. In my will I left over half a million pounds, with bank accounts in London, Switzerland and California. I also had a few titles to my name, including a Baron and Knights Templar. I was an accomplished writer and artist; I have authored over 30 books. My first was published in 1934. My close friends included other artists, poets and a Princess. I had property in London and Spain and a plot of land in the Bahamas.

So I hear you ask, why end my days in a small terraced house in a seaside town? Let me explain.

My name is Avro Manhattan I was born in Italy on 6th April 1910. My parents were wealthy and we travelled around Europe. I was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, where as a student I met the artist, Picasso. This was a great time in my formative years, I used to get, what I called little explosions in my head, idea’s, sounds and colours just popping in, and I knew I had to do something with them.

So in the 1930’s when I went back to Italy and rented an art studio at Lake Maggiore I started to put my idea’s down on canvas. But while there the authorities told me that I had to serve in Mussolini’s fascist army, I refused, so they put me in jail. While imprisoned in the Alps I didn’t waste my time, in my small prison cell I learned to harness my little explosions and wrote a book on astronomy, a subject I was getting really interested in.

They say prison can break some people, but not me, after the experience it made me more determined to make something of my life. I left Italy behind and went to London.

During World War II, I worked in radio and was broadcasting to occupied Europe and also wrote political commentaries for the BBC, for this service two things happened, the British awarded me a Knight of Malta, and the Nazi’s put a price on my head. A feeling that would follow me all through my life, the feeling of dodging a bullet.

While in the UK I was living between London and the North East, where I was invited to important functions, foreign embassies, and film premiers. I worked with HG Wells and helped draw up a bill of human rights. I met with Ian Paisley, the loyalist politician from Northern Ireland.

I held an art exhibition on the riverside in South Shields attended by the very flamboyant son of the Marquis of Bath. The Viscount bought two of my paintings but he confessed his only ambition was to try Newcastle Brown Ale. I met Dr Thomas Paine, the head of NASA. As I’ve said it was a subject I was really interested in and became a passion of mine, I was very interested in space and what else was out there in our universe.

I was a very good friend with the scientist Marie Stopes. She had just read my latest book, and came to an exhibition of some of my paintings in London. We got on well and our friendship grew, there were strong rumours of a love affair.  At the time I was thirty nine, she was 72.

But my little explosions kept me really busy and by now my main work was writing. I talk of the obscenity of some very wealthy world organisations co-existing with poverty. My titles deal with topical issues and are controversial; they deal with current religious and political problems affecting the USA and the Western world. I researched the subjects thoroughly and my style is not to be judge or jury; but to be the prosecuting counsel. In the ‘Vatican Moscow Washington Alliance’ I talked with the Yugoslav General, Milkovich, himself an opponent of Nazism and Communism.

During research I came across a story of a squadron of bombers planning to flatten the Vatican, this was foiled only 24 hours before the attack was to take place. Revealing this brought me many readers across the world, but also many enemies. Ozark Books, one of my publishers, said I risked my life daily to expose some of the darkest secrets of the Papacy.

Many of my books have been translated into a number of languages from French, German and Spanish, to Hebrew, Czech and Russian. ‘The Vatican in World Politics’ ran to fifty editions. One review said that a copy of ‘The Vatican’s Holocaust’ was hurled across St Pauls Cathedral in London, the book was criticised, condemned, banned, destroyed and even burned as frequently as it has been recommended and praised in many parts of the world.

In 1983 Chick Publications in America published ‘The Vatican Billions’ where I explain how the popes stole the wealth of the world through the centuries. I expose the incredible tricks played on kings, and papal involvement with the Bolsheviks. I reveal the story of how millions are missing from the Vatican Bank, the suicide of the banker Calvi under a London Bridge, and the jailed Vatican Bankers.

As I’ve said the subject matter of my writing had brought me many readers across the world but also people who would like to see me silenced. In 1986 I was in America to deliver a speech and promote my book ‘The Vatican’s Holocaust’ when I was caught in the cross hairs of one organisation. The Ustasha was a revolutionary movement from Croatia, they specialised in the assassination of prominent people. After my speech I was standing at the bar when I was approached by a man and he whispered to me in a matter of fact tone of voice “I came to the convention to kill you”. He departed as other people came up to me for signed copies of my book. One of these men was my bodyguard and when I told him of the incident he froze and told me that he recognised him as one of the most ruthless Usthasa killers. Something had changed his mind; you could say I had dodged a bullet – again.

But the love of my life and best friend was Anne Cunningham – Brown. She was very loving, caring and kind. We were never apart for more than a few days, it was like we were meant to be together. I first met Anne at a cocktail party in London in 1963; she worked in a hospital there. She was originally from Shotley Bridge, a small town in the North East but her mother was living on the coast in South Shields and Anne invited me up there.

I was greatly surprised by it – especially the beauty of the parks and the seafront. It is a real pleasure to be able to look out and see the horizon. It is where I can work in peace and quiet, or just sit in the house that my dear wife decorated, with its heavy drapes, antiques, cherub figures and a piano in the corner, all very bohemian. Some days I just take our dog for a walk, buy fish and chips, and sip Newcastle Brown Ale.

I remember during the 1970’s Anne was commuting to work at a hospital in London. I used to phone and write to her.  

‘Dearest Love, I miss you very much after you left last week the house seemed so empty. It was a strange sense of absence and void. Which proves that when I’m near you I love you very much, and that you are part of my life and work. I love to hear your voice on the telephone. Somehow it completes my day’.

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We were together nearly 30 years and our life was fantastic, we loved to holiday, especially in the United States. We spent time in Los Angeles, California and Utah with its beautiful canyons. From time to time we stayed in Kensington and sometimes fly over to our flat in Sitges in Spain, but lived mostly in South Shields. We used to go to the local theatre and enjoy watching the shows and regularly hosted dinner parties and barbecues. As a couple we were always together, when my dear wife died in 2008, she was buried with me.

But there was a time in my life when I took a break from writing as I felt I had put myself under so much pressure with the amount of research I was doing plus trying to meet deadlines, it all got too much and I needed to stop, or at least slow down.

Anne gave me guidance, extra confidence in my writing, but I felt the work was getting to me, the stories that I was finding out and revealing to my readers were suffocating me, at times I felt that I couldn’t breathe. I was carrying important information around with me, and it was getting heavier. It felt like my head was going to explode.

Ann was very worried about the effect it was having on my health, I always said it was the nurse in her, wanting to take care of me. I really needed to take a vacation, and recharge my batteries, but I felt compelled to look further, to progress and soak up more of the stories then let my readers know what is going on in the world around us. I really felt I was doing the right thing by exposing all these secrets and lies.

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Since coming to Britain 40 years ago, I had been working on a book about an imaginary god invented by primitive man to give himself courage and hope in his struggle for survival, The Dawn of Man is better than the garden of Eden….my hero, Azor is better than Adam. I talk about how a new world will emerge, and the start of a brighter future for mankind. I thought it was my finest work so I got in touch with Lyle Stuart one of my publishers in the USA asking if he would like to release it.

But the irony was that as soon as it was ready, to my surprise I had a heart attack on my 75th birthday. After a short stay in hospital I made a recovery and was straight back to work, and we released the book. To say the least, Anne was very disappointed in me putting my work, my passion ahead of my health. It will kill you in the end she used to say.

I was still working to my last days, I was planning a new book and my research was leading to a links with The Vatican, the CIA, and murders of very prominent people in the western world. This was a conspiracy which would shake the foundations of these organisations. There is no proof – yet. But the truth will come out in the end, believe me my friend. Someday it will be known.

So that’s it, that’s my story. I ended my days here in South Shields where I produced my best work living close to the sea and where I could see the stars more clearly.

END.

Yes that’s it, for now.  A story of a fascinating character who ended his day’s in a small seaside town. The research is on-going and new information has come to light. Part two of his story is being written revealing more about the man who called himself Baron Avro Manhattan.

Further reading about Manhattan on earlier blogs:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/07/17/secrets-lies-documentary-based-on-the-life-of-baron-avro-manhattan/

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/08/13/secrets-lies-new-documentary-about-baron-avro-manhattan/

Gary Alikivi 2019.

WESTOE ROSE – The story of Amy Flagg, South Shields Historian & Photographer 1893-1965

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Amy Flagg is fondly remembered as the lady in a hat and trench coat, who quietly went about photographing buildings and recording the history of a town she loved. But who was Amy ? This is a story of courage and determination of a very unique woman who captured some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century.

At the end of the nineteenth century the North East was the industrial heartland of the UK. Collieries, Shipyards and Steelworks covered the landscape. Small villages dotted around the area offered their residents some clear breathing space away from the hazy smog of the town.

Westoe Village in South Shields was home to many notable people of the town. The shipbuilding family the Readheads, Robert Ingham MP, and in Chapel House was the Flagg family. In this grand 20 roomed house was Ambrose, his wife Annie and their only child Amy who was born on 30th of September 1893.

Amy’s father originally came from South London, and was educated at Cambridge University. In 1889 he married Annie Broughton of Westoe and was appointed Headmaster of the Marine School in the town. He was also member of the Ancient Vestry of St Hilda’s where he rubbed shoulders with influential people. He arranged for Amy’s private education.

The young Amy had a brief romance with a neighbour in the Village but sadly like many men from the town he went to fight in the First World War and never returned, throughout the rest of her life she never married.

There is no record of her being employed so what did she do with her education ? This was a time when women had just fought for the vote, was she involved in the Suffragette movement ? Reports describe Amy as a shy, quiet and gentle woman willing to help others. There is accounts of her spending hours in the garden of Chapel House and having an active role volunteering in the local hospital and library. Whether helping someone find information about the town or reading to a patient in hospital, was Amy now becoming aware of her surroundings and her purpose in life ?

By 1930 she was a member of the local photographic society. At a time when only a few female photographers worked in the UK, a woman behind the camera was very unique. This is the time when Amy blossomed and began to see the world around her in a different light. She was fascinated by the changing landscape of the town and photographed the housing clearances along the riverside. But the camera techniques that she had been using were brought into sharp focus in a period that would be Amy’s defining moment in her creative life. She captured the town’s suffering through one of it’s most traumatic episodes: the Second World War. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera. Amy’s father had died in 1936 and her mother died during the war, plus the town she loved was falling apart from the German air raids. Her life was crumbling around her. These were her darkest days.  

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But Amy was determined that these events would not destroy her, having a purpose and remaining active helped strengthen her. She gained recognition for her work and became the town’s official photographer during the war. After receiving permission from the Ministry of Information and the Chief Press Censor, Amy produced a series of booklets of the Air Raid Damage.

An intelligent, determined and very courageous woman, at nearly 50 years old, she was climbing into demolished houses and onto bomb sites to capture the photographs. To accompany the photographs she documented as much information as possible about the area’s and streets which were hit by bombs. She also recorded in great detail the time of the air raids and if there were any casualties or deaths.

‘On January 11th 1940 shortly after 10.00 hours South Shields felt the first impact of warfare by the Luftwaffe. The Air Ministry announced: Enemy air craft crossed the coast near Newcastle today. No bombs were dropped. Fighter patrols were sent up and Anti-aircraft guns opened fire’.

The pictures are haunting and as time passes they take on a new meaning for a wider audience. It is as if she was aware of the effect and importance they would have in years to come. In her dark room she printed every photograph herself of the devastation caused by air raids on the town. With the traumatic events revolving around her, Amy would go to the darkroom where she could feel warmth and security in her own home as images she had taken that day were revealed by the mix of the chemicals. She would watch the magic happen in front of her eyes.

Even the Flagg family home didn’t escape from the German bombs.

‘At zero 45 hours on the 16th April four bombs fell in the grounds of residential property in Westoe. The first on the edge of a field at Seacroft failed to explode and was dealt with by the bomb disposal unit at a later date. The second and third fell in the gardens of Fairfield and Eastgarth respectively. The last one on the lawn ten yards from Chapel House. No casualties were reported but considerable damage was done to a large number of houses in the neighbourhood, including over forty roofs of houses in Horsley Hill road which were penetrated by lumps of clay thrown up by the explosions’.

These incredible photographs are considered to be her most valued and precious legacy. In her very extensive diary notes of October 2nd 1941

‘At daylight on Friday morning the Market Place looked like the ruins of Ypres; nothing could be seen but broken buildings; the square was littered with debris and a tangle of fire hose; all the remaining windows in St Hilda’s Church were shattered, the roof dislodged and the old stone walls pitted and scarred with shrapnel. The Old Town Hall suffered heavy interior harm and none of the business premises were left intact. All the overhead wires were down and it was not until the afternoon of October 9th that buses were able to pass along King Street’.

Experiencing the two world wars, a changing landscape to her town, and both parents recently deceased, creatively and emotionally events of this magnitude would of tested the resilience of most people. But she picked herself up and threw herself into a frenzied period of her life. Recording information from parish records, researching family tree’s from notable people in the town, collecting various reports and photographs from the local paper that she would then cut out and paste in scrap books.

She was continually surprising librarians by asking to see little known documents, and then by hand she would record facts then type them up at home. Amy was tireless in her thirst for knowledge about the town she loved, and with a lot of buildings disappearing during the war she thought it important to record as much information as she could. Sadly this lead her to the last piece of work which was published by South Tyneside Library Service in 1979. It took Amy eight painstaking years of research to produce the book ‘Notes on the History of Shipbuilding in South Shields 1746-1946’.

‘Shadwell Street and Pilot Street. It is very fitting that these two streets should be the first section in these notes; the eastern extremity of the old township of South Shields was the birthplace and for long the nursery of shipbuilding in our town.

John Readheads story is that of an extremely successful industrialist in South Shields, from being a practical blacksmith, he built up one of the most prosperous shipbuilding firms on Tyneside. He made his way from wood and iron tugboats to large steamers for every part of the world. John Readhead died on the 9th March 1894 at his home Southgarth, in Westoe Village; he had been in failing health for some time but had visited the West Docks almost daily until the last few weeks’.

Amy also noted the huge effort by Readheads during the First World War. Amongst the constant procession of merchant vessels which needed repairing after being torpedoed or mined, they supplied 20 cargo vessels, 3 armoured patrol boats and one vessel which was converted into an oil tanker for the Admiralty.

Amy noted in the book that nothing better illustrates the importance of Readheads than the genuine rejoicing when local newspaper the Shields Gazette announces in large headlines ‘ANOTHER ORDER FOR READHEADS’.

In her later years it was reported that Amy put as much work into her garden as she did of her house. She spent countless hours planting unusual flowers and plants. Family, friends and neighbours were constant visitors to it, and she delighted in showing them the statues and conservatories. Even turning the crater caused by a world war two bomb into an ornamental garden.

Amy lived in Chapel House until 1962 when she gave the house and grounds to South Shields Corporation to enable the expansion of the Marine College. This was a heart breaking decision as she lived there most of her life.

‘I have not the slightest idea about the value of the house, but I shall not leave yet. I intend to spend one more summer here’.

But it was something that would of pleased her father as he devoted his life to education in the town. The Marine and Technical College being the successor to the Marine School where he worked for most of his life.  Amy stayed in the village for another three years until her death from stomach cancer on the 22nd February 1965. Her body was cremated and the ashes buried in the family grave in Harton Cemetery.

Amy requested a quiet affair but her popularity meant her funeral was attended by over 200 people including the Mayor of South Shields, her close friend and Librarian Miss Rosemary Farrell and a contingent of medical staff and nurses from the Ingham Infirmary. In a last generous gesture Amy left a substantial amount of money in her will to Ingham hospital. A small remembrance in the town is Flagg Court, and the local photographic society where she was a member hold a yearly competition where the winner receives the Flagg Cup.

Amy’s extensive papers, research and photographs were all placed with the local library and are still held there to this day. Amy Flagg will be remembered as one of the town’s most important photographers and local historians.

 Research from the documentary ‘Westoe Rose’ 2016.

To watch the 12min film check the You Tube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gB1a3Y-yFhM

 Gary Alikivi 2019.

HOME NEWCASTLE – snapshot from the life of musician, manager and record producer Chas Chandler 1938-96

For many Tynesiders 1st February 1967 was a defining moment in music history. A packed New Cellar Club in South Shields saw the Jimi Hendrix Experience live on stage, a unique musician from New York who had been brought over to the UK by Chas. An audience member told me ‘After watching Cream play the opening night at the Cellar people picked up the guitar, but after Hendrix played, loads of bands formed on Tyneside’.

Brian James Chandler was brought up in Heaton, Newcastle, and after leaving school he worked in the shipyards. His early years as a musician were spent playing bass in local band’s like The Kon-Tors. Another band on the scene were Kansas City Five, one of their member’s was Alan Price.

The Club a Go-Go in Newcastle was the venue, for band’s like The Yardbirds, Rolling Stones and John Lee Hooker. Also getting regular gig’s were the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo formed by Chandler and Price. They were joined by Eric Burdon on vocals. Three down two to go.

With regular gigs at The Old Vic in Whitley Bay and Club a Go-Go, Chas asked drummer John Steel to join… ‘You’ll make £14 per week’. Next up was North Shields guitarist Hilton Valentine and finally by September ’63 the Animals line-up was complete – Burdon, Price, Chandler, Steel and Valentine.

In 1964 the band opened a UK tour for Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. By the summer of ’66 The Animals were hugely popular after many TV appearances and hit’s including House of the Rising Sun and We Gotta Get Out of This Place. ‘We toured non-stop for three years but hardly got a penny’. But on their last American tour things were about to change.

Chas walked into a Greenwich Village club in New York to watch a young guitarist. It took one look for him to decide he wanted Jimi Hendrix to come to the UK. After helping him arrange a passport Chas phoned the airline ‘I’d like two first class tickets to London. One way’.

The UK capital in 1966 was aptly called ‘Swinging London’ and Chas thought it was the perfect launch pad for Hendrix’ new career. At his expense, Chas rushed the Jimi Hendrix Experience into a studio to record Hey Joe which opened the doors for them. Purple Haze followed and the rest is history.

Through the 70’s Chas bought Portland Studio in London and ran a number of record labels including Barn Records, Six of the Best and Cheapskate Records. He was also very successful as manager and producer of 70’s chart regulars Slade who had a run of hit singles, before he briefly played in a reformed Animals. By the 1980’s Chas was manager and producer of 21 Strangers, a North East band that had two UK singles on the Charisma label.

By the 90’s large entertainment centre’s were springing up around the UK where live music and sporting events were held in the same venue. Chas and his business partner Nigel Stanger were the brains behind a new venture. They secured financial support and on the 18th November 1995 the 10,000 seater Newcastle Arena opened for business.

Sadly on 17th July 1996 Chas died in Newcastle General Hospital. But he left behind a rich musical history including The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, Slade and Newcastle Arena.

Gary Alikivi June 2019.

THE LAMPLIGHTER’S SON – The long hard route from the North East coal mines to the House of Commons. Richard Ewart M.P. 1904-53

VOTE EWART copyIt’s a rare post when any politics touch this blog but this is about a relation of mine so I’ll make an exception. Watching news programmes in 1984 about the miner’s strike brought politics to my attention. The Battle of Orgreave was civil war. I knew whose side I was on. Nowadays it’s TV repeats of Yes Minister, The Thick of It and American show Veep – all I need to know about that game.

As I write two Tory clowns argue, the LibDem’s are having a 6th form t-shirt protest and Labour are stuck in the middle. All look’s a bit ‘schoolyard’ really. But this post is a story about a young politician and ask’s, would he have got anywhere near the House of Commons today ?

My Great Uncle Richard Ewart was born on the 15 September 1904 in South Shields, County Durham. He was the only son in a family of seven daughters. His mother’s family were from County Derry, Ireland and his father’s family were from Longtown on the border with Dumfries. His father worked as a fishmonger’s assistant, hawker, knocker upperer and municipal lamplighter. The family lived in the Holborn and Laygate area’s of the town.

Richard was educated at St Bede’s Roman Catholic School in South Shields. He left school at 14 and worked as a hewer in Whitburn Colliery. But at the age of 21 Richard suffered a back injury and had to leave the mine. During his employment at the Colliery he was a member of the Durham Miner’s Association and when he left the pit he immediately joined the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (NUGMW). Unemployment was very high in South Shields in the 1920’s, and the only work he could find was a marker in a local billiards hall in Laygate. He eventually became manager of the hall.

Richard joined the Labour Party in 1925 and on 1 November 1932 was elected to the South Shields Town Council for the Holborn Ward to become it’s youngest member at that time. From 1936-39 he was Chairman of the Housing Committee and Vice Chairman of it’s Public Assistance Committee. In December ’36 he became full-time branch secretary of the NUGMW and in August ’38 was appointed Union Organiser.

Apart from his Trade Union and Council work Richard was a keen billiards player and a member of Robert Monteigle’s Studio Players who performed at the Alexandra Theatre in South Shields.

The Second World War had started and he served on the South Shields Council until 1943 then transferred to the Cleveland District to help Union Officials cope with the wartime expansion of trade union work on Teeside.

In 1945 he successfully stood as Parliamentary Labour Candidate for the double member constituency of Sunderland as a sponsored candidate of the NUGMW. Along with his Labour partner F.T. Willey they defeated the two sitting members, a National Liberal and a Conservative.

Richard lived in Kensington, London and his first parliamentary duty after his election to the House of Commons was to join the British Parliamentary delegation to Germany in 1946. For most of his Parliamentary career he confined himself to regional and industrial affairs. He also pressed in Parliament for the North East to be given it’s own radio service and urged the extension and completion of television services to the Pontop Pike transmitter. On 8 June 1951 Richard was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Sir Hartley Shawcross, President of the Board of Trade.

Sadly at a young age, just 48, Richard died on 7 March 1953 in St Andrew’s Hospital, London. His death was announced on BBC radio. In memory of his life there was a Dick Ewart reading room in Sunderland Labour Party Headquarters also a street in his birth town of South Shields, named Ewart Crescent.

Information taken from Hansard, Electoral Rolls, Sunderland Echo, The Shields Gazette and personal papers.

Gary Alikivi July 2019.

THE GREAT GEORDIE SONGBOOK – in conversation with North East playwright Ed Waugh

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Ed’s company Wisecrack Productions have booked a November date at The Sage in Gateshead. The show features classic North East songs and comedy…Not much working class history is documented so we try our best to help in a little way said Ed.

The Great Geordie Songbook is a celebration of local songwriters including Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull and Billy Mitchell, 19th century concert hall entertainers Joe Wilson and Ned Corvan…Ned would have been great to talk to. I think I would of got on really well with him. In the 1800’s he had his music hall next to the old South Shields ferry landing on the river Tyne. Apparently it was a den of iniquity and the magistrates were constantly trying to close him down (laughs). But yeah he was a fantastic singer-songwriter and it’s brilliant being in this game because you come across some great stories.

How did the songbook idea come about ? I was approached by Ray Laidlaw of Lindisfarne and Brian Mawson boss of Windows music shop in Newcastle. Brian has a real passion for Geordie comedy and songs. The Geordie heritage really comes across when you talk to him. He has recorded all the stand up comedians like the Little Waster himself, Bobby Thompson.

They had just seen my play Hadaway Harry about the rower Harry Clasper. After the show they asked if I’d heard of Ned Corvan and Joe Wilson, both singer-songwriters performing in the North East during Victorian times. Much to my shame I hadn’t and they asked would I write something about Ned.

How much research did you do for the project ? For the Ned Covan play I done about 40 talk’s with Dave Harker, he’s a North East historian who wrote a book Catgut Jim. The play was based on that. I couldn’t have done it without him. His research was fantastic.

Ned’s songs had great lyrics like the Cullercoats Fish Lass and Mally by the Shore, these were testaments in the 19th century to working class women. He also wrote song’s about workers on strike supporting seafarers. Song’s with lyric’s about day to day working class life. The more research we done we found it was a good story and it’s all about the story isn’t it.

It was a huge success and got a fantastic response which led us onto a play about Joe Wilson. That toured last September and that also got a great response. Both Joe and Ned show’s played at The Sage so after the success they asked us what you got next ? The Great Geordie Songbook was put forward, along with a tribute to Alan Hull so there will be a few Lindisfarne song’s.

The show features some of the region’s biggest theatre stars, Micky Cochrane, Sarah Boulter and Jamie Brown who all appeared in The Great Joe Wilson with Jordan Miller from Sunderland band The Lake PoetsTop musician Rachael McShane from English folk band Bellowhead who also appeared in Mr Corvan’s Music Hall plus musical comedy from Gavin Webster and Josh Daniels…We work with top professional’s, we have a really good team and work well together and enjoy it. To be fair we don’t have the time or the money to muck about. But yes it’s a laugh from start to finish. Our last show was Carrying David about the boxer Glenn McCrory. I told him it was really good to work on a play about someone who isn’t dead (laughs).

Off the back of all this we worked with Newcastle Council and got some blue plaque’s put around Newcastle. They’re all about leaving a legacy for what was achieved. There is one for Harry Clasper on the Guildhall over-looking the Tyne, one for Joe on Stowell Street where he was born and a plaque on the Central Station where 2,700 people came to see Ned at the Olympic Theatre. That was the venue where Joe saw Ned, where he was inspired to write about working class life.

When the chip’s were down they really nailed their colour’s to the mast. We want to keep their legacy going for young people and for the next generation to be inspired. I think for protest song’s young songwriter’s will go and raid the songbook’s of Alan Hull, Joe Wilson and Ned Corvan. And that’s what we want, we need to hear those great song’s again.

Tickets for The Great Geordie Songbook are on sale now only £20. There are two performances on Sunday 3rd November 2019 with the first curtain up at 4pm and then 8pm.

Contact www.sagegateshead.com or

www.wisecrackproductions.co.uk

 Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.