GIVE THEM A LEADER – New single out now from Electro:Goth:Punks, Calling All Astronauts

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March 2018 was the last time I featured Calling All Astronauts. Now 2 year later Grammy Award winning producer Alan Branch (NIN, U2, Depeche Mode) has worked on their new single ‘Give Them a Leader’. How did working with Alan come about ? Alan is an old school friend of Paul’s, when we thought we’d finished mixing it Paul sent him a copy to have a listen, and Alan very kindly came round to my house and gave me a crash course in mixing like a Grammy winning producer. He mixed ‘Give Them A Leader’ while he was demonstrating to me, although he subsequently mixed it again. He gave me loads of tips and help, the album sounds fantastic thanks to him.

Is there a story behind the single ? Yeah, we see politicians from the far right and the far left fighting it out, when what the majority of people want, is a leader that looks after education, the weak, the poor, the elderly, that doesn’t treat the global corporations like Gods, but encourages people to be aspirational.

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Formed in 2013 CAA are David.B (Vocals, Programming, Keys, Producing), Paul McCrudden (Bass, Guitar, Keys), and J Browning (Guitar). They released their debut album Post Modern Conspiracy in 2013, their second album, Anti-Social Network was released in 2016. New album ‘Resist’ is released on Friday 5th June, where did you record it ?  We recorded it in the studio in my house, we spent around 3,000 hours making it, we’d be in hock for the rest of our lives if we’d gone outside to write and record it. We are very happy with it, every album we make we learn from the mistakes on the previous one, and hopefully improve.

What inspires you to write songs ? By watching the news and social media, I am a bit obsessive over politics, and find the empowerment of the far right and nationalists abhorrent, this is what inspires my lyrics.

What is the impact of the Coronavirus on the CAA plans ? It’s actually blown our plans totally out of the water. We are just going to play it by ear for the time being, and see how the singles and album go before making a decision. When people are dying, whether or not you are playing live shows really doesn’t matter.

As well as features on radio stations worldwide, the electro punks played festivals Kendal Calling, Guilfest, Beautiful Days, and opened for bands like Pop Will Eat Itself. Have you gained a following ? Yes, but when you consider the music we make, it’s quite a small pond to be a fairly popular fish in. We definitely haven’t crossed over to the mainstream yet, though that isn’t on our radar, we just enjoy making what we consider to be good tunes.

New single ‘Give Them a Leader’ out now via Supersonic Media.

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Contact Calling All Astronauts:

Facebook www.facebook.com/callingallastronauts

Twitter www.twitter.com/caa_official

Spotify  https://open.spotify.com/artist/0xqglBsPF9COYj64LNl85t

Youtube www.youtube.com/callingallastronauts

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020.

 

BOB & WEAVE with North East actor Micky Cochrane

‘Carrying David’ is a one-man play reflecting the highs and lows of Glenn McRory’s unrelenting drive and sacrifice to become the first world boxing champion from the North East.  After performances last year, a short run of dates were scheduled for April.

The play was written by Ed Waugh (The Great Joe Wilson, Hadaway Harry) and starring Micky Cochrane. When I caught up with Micky I asked him what impact is the Coronavirus pandemic having ? Unfortunately the shows at the Newcastle Theatre Royal and Canal Cafe Theatre in London have been cancelled. I really hope we can reschedule but it’s all so uncertain now. I’d worked hard to get into really good shape so I’ll continue with that. Long term I don’t know what will happen.

What other work have you done with writer, Ed Waugh ? One of the earliest plays of my career was The Revengers written by Ed and Trevor Wood. I also did Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather by the duo. In recent years I’ve worked a lot with Ed who I get on very well with. I played music hall legend Joe Wilson in the ‘Great Joe Wilson’ in 2018 and grew to have great affection for the man.

Have you had a magic moment on stage when it’s all going great ? Absolutely. It’s a great feeling when you know going into a run how strong the show is and then the audience lift it to another level. I remember doing ‘A Nightingale Sang’ by C.P. Taylor. Most of the cast were on stage for my entrance and I couldn’t wait to get out there. The script is so good and the cues so fast it was such a buzz to be part of it.

With ‘Carrying David’ in every performance I felt I recognised a moment where I knew the audience were with me and with the story. That’s a pretty special feeling.

How did you get interested in acting ? I always acted and performed at school. Got my A for Drama but left school thinking it’s not something that someone of my background does. I maintained an interest from afar but didn’t see it as a career. I had all kinds of offers to join youth theatre and Drama clubs.

After years of many jobs and no direction it was my mother who persuaded me to give it a shot. I took a degree, got an agent and became a professional actor.

Is stage work in your family ? Singing and performing definitely. My mother is an amazing singer with a lovely voice. My older sister and younger sister are both good singers. My younger brother Stephen is a singer and fantastic songwriter and we are in a band This Ground Moves. My niece has an amazing voice. We’re the Geordie Osmonds.

Have you worked in TV or radio ? Yes, highlight was doing Man Down with Greg Davies. A great experience and a good laugh. Done quite a few ads in TV and radio.

What role would you like to play ? It’s ambitious, but I’d love to explore the part of Johnny Byron in ‘Jerusalem’. Maybe a ‘Line of Duty’ villain, love playing shady characters. I also have a real interest in playing strong characters or any who have a vulnerability to them.

Have you any work lined up this year ? I was meant to be working at Live Theatre this summer, with November Club in late summer and at Alnwick Playhouse at Christmas, but Live Theatre has been cancelled for now. It’s fingers crossed for the others. Who knows what happens next. It’s a sad and surreal situation we’re in.

Interview  by Gary Alikivi  March 2020.

HUMANITY & COURAGE – South Shields Historian & Photographer Amy Flagg (1893–1965)

 

The previous post was a snapshot of the life of Victorian photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. Another photographer featured on the blog is South Shields Historian Amy Flagg (links below).

This post highlights the photograph’s Amy produced during the Second World War. She took some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera.

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Page from inside the pamphlet.

When researching a documentary about Amy (Westoe Rose, 2016) I came across detailed records that she had made of German air raids that revealed the amount of suffering the town endured. The Ministry of Information and the Chief Press Officer gave permission to produce Humanity & Courage, pamphlets featuring some photographs that Flagg had taken of war damage to her town.

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Detailed record of air raids over South Shields.

More images are available on the South Tyneside Library website

https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Included here is a picture story from The Shields Gazette showing her friend and Librarian Rose Mary Farrell standing next to a display of Amy’s photographs. They were shown in an exhibition at South Shields Library. The report is dated August 1968, three years after Amy died.

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Links to previous Amy Flagg posts:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/07/19/westoe-rose-making-the-documentary-about-historian-and-photographer-amy-flagg/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/07/11/westoe-rose-the-story-of-amy-flagg-south-shields-historian-photographer-1893-1965/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/12/21/history-lives-amy-c-flagg-south-shields-historian-photographer-1893-1965/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/12/28/amy-flagg-holborn-the-mill-dam-valley/

Gary Alikivi  March 2020

 

A LIFE IN PICTURES – Snapshot of Victorian Photographer, Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (1853-1941)

In October 2017 I was at one of the Goth weekenders held in Whitby on the North East UK coast. The town was revelling in the darker side of life, people walking around in colourful costumes celebrating the dead. The reason behind the spooky theme is the town’s connection to Dracula. In 1890 the writer Bram Stoker stayed in the town where he was inspired to write his vampire novel. Another reason to visit the town was the Frank Sutcliffe gallery.

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe was born in Yorkshire on 6th October 1853. He came from a large family, his parents had six children and made the ancient port of Whitby their home. At 17 Sutcliffe was a photographer and assistant to his father Thomas, an Artist and lecturer. By the time he was 35 he was married to Eliza, the couple had four girls, one son and were living at 9 Burrowfield Terrace. By 1901 the family had moved to Sleights Cottage in the town where his oldest daughter Kathleen was his photography assistant.

Sutcliffe paid the rent by taking studio portraits, but the main subject of his work was everyday working life, with the fishing community a main focus. Capturing Victorian life brought him international recognition and an award from the Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 1935.

Included are some of his photographs taken from a 1988 calendar I have called, ‘A Photographic Heritage’. One of the pictures features two of his children, Horace and Irene fishing for newts. The naff quality copies here aren’t a patch on the images in the calendar, if you search out his pictures they are worth spending time with.

On the Second World War register he is an 86 year old widow, employed as Curator at Whitby Museum. His daughter Irene lived with him until he died on the 31st May 1941.

http://www.sutcliffe-gallery.co.uk/

Gary Alikivi   March 2020.

 

CHANGE IS GONNA COME – with singer, actor & model Emma Wilson

Last heard from Emma in the blog ‘Song for the Siren’ (1st May 2019) where she talked about her influences and career to date. We caught up recently and I asked her how the coronavirus situation is affecting her….. We are certainly living in strange times, gigs that I booked for April, May and June are being cancelled on an hourly basis. It is frustrating and very challenging for the wonderful venues who promote Live Music, I truly hope they survive the next few months.

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Tell me about the British Blues scene that you are a part of ? British Blues is a thriving art, it has been recently reinvigorated by a new wave of incredible artists and an appreciation of existing legendary Blues Bands. The DJs, photographers, journalists and promoters of Blues in the UK and throughout world are the bedrock of the industry allowing us as bands, to float over the top producing our music and performing.

We need to support each other and make sure that (when we are able) we flood the venues with an audience. What we can do now is buy the magazines, tag the photographers and tell everyone about the great blues radio shows.

How are the Emma Wilson Blues Band progressing since we last talked ? We are reaching an upward curve where we are playing slightly bigger festivals and receiving good press. Some festivals have already been cancelled, but others are scheduled for later in the year and for 2021, so I am truly optimistic that we can pick up where we left off, so to speak.

The good news is that I have begun recording my new album. I laid some original tracks down with Italian Saxophone/Harmonica/Keyboard player Alessandro Brunetta in January and the band will be going into the Circulation Studios in Hurworth to add their parts as soon as possible.

I also have 3 incredible guests adding to the record, they are from the world of Funk, Jazz and Rock, frankly they are my 3 dream guests and legends of their genre. Obviously I can’t tell you who they are as that is for the big press release (sorry Gary!) but they are individually working on the album remotely in Amsterdam, New York and California.

Are you still picking up TV and modelling work ? If the TV channels stop doing live shows they may start re-running the classics I have been on so look out for me on Antiques shows ‘French Collection’ and ‘Make Me a Dealer’ (where the BBC bleeped me for saying Sh*t). I was also on ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’, ‘Toast of London’ and an advert for World Animal Protection lottery (it has bears on it).

How are you responding to the Coronavirus situation ?  I say stay, Body Confident, don’t worry if you put on a few pounds while self-isolating but do a few stretches or have a walk, be kind to yourself, sing and breathe fresh air.

Optimistically I am looking forward to giving everyone a hug…but in the meantime A BIG VIRTUAL HUG from me and keep listening out for my music ! My songs are heavily influenced by my admiration for Ann Peebles and early Aretha, with my rock edge inspired by Paul Rodgers and Terry Reid.

I can’t wait to get out playing again soon, in fact I have suggested open air gigs as soon as we are able, that might be a start ?

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For now I am putting lots of fun ‘outtakes’, videos and freebies on my page at Facebook.com/emmawilsonbluesband.   Also updating my website

www.emmawilson.net  and my You Tube page ‘Emma Wilson Blues Band’ with new videos added weekly.

To join Emma’s mailing list or for any other enquiries: emmawilsonbluesband@gmail.com

Or buy the EP:  https://store.cdbaby.com/artist/EmmaWilson

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020

 

 

YEAR OF THE TYGER – new album & tour dates.

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‘Ritual’ is the second album from the Tygers of Pan Tang with the line-up of Jacko Meille, Robb Weir, Micky Crystal, Craig Ellis and Gav Gray. After recording had finished in 2019 I caught up with Jack, Craig and Gav who talked about the album….When we got into the studio we were ready for it. We knew we were gonna make a great album – and we have.

Jack: It was tough, but rewarding. We were forced to delay the recording twice because we didn’t feel we were ready to record. It wasn’t an easy decision to take but the best.

Craig: Writing the material for the album had begun over a year prior, and regular writing and rehearsal sessions were going on right upto going into the studio.

During that time we would video and record everything for reference and when a song is complete I write out the drum notation so I get it completely under my skin.

Gav: On day one we set up, got some drum sounds and worked towards day two to have some drum and bass takes with guide guitars. Craig is in the live room. Me and Mick would be in the control room with Fred Purser. We had worked on the songs for months so when it came time to record them it didn’t take long. Robb added his guitar and Jackie flew in from his home in Italy to do the vocals.

Craig: Both Jack and I write the lyrics and melodies to the majority of the songs and because of that I automatically absorb a songs structure.

Jack: The 11 tracks on the new album are the best we could ever record. I know it sounds like a cliche, but after all the hard work, we’re all very proud of the result.

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The band recorded the album at Trinity Heights Studio in Newcastle, former guitarist with the Tygers, Fred Purser, is owner and producer. How did that go Gav ? Yeah lovely bloke, we got on really well, he loved my tea and morning hugs (laughs). Being in a two guitar band sometimes requires that ‘less is more’ and most times that’s true, the bass doesn’t need to be too busy, just a really solid rhythm is all that is needed on a lot of hard rock songs. My thing has always been for the rhythm and timing. I was never a practising musician, just a frustrated drummer !

Craig: What makes for a good recording session is the engineer and studio, and Fred Purser at Trinity Heights made the whole thing an absolute pleasure throughout.

Gav: It all worked well, everyone’s playing on the record is fantastic. The whole session and working with Fred was, for me, one of my best yet. It’s a great place to make a record.

Jack: I personally enjoyed every moment spent in the studio with Fred. He is such a talented guy and made me feel at home. I only had 6 days to record, and believe me it’s not very much when you have to record 11 songs plus a couple of bonus tracks. But I made it and have to thank him for that. Also we discovered we have a passion for craft beers. So after recording we managed to ‘indulge’ drinking some really good ones (laughs).

This year the Tygers have lined up a European tour in April and are on the bill at festival dates with Black Star Riders, Gun, and Angelwitch. For gig confirmation go to https://www.facebook.com/tygersofpantangofficial/

Craig: We’ll be doing songs from the new album and I’m particularly looking forward to gigging with the Festival sized backdrop we’ll have for those shows, the Ritual Mask in giant-size taking ownership of the stage!

Looking to 2021 they share a stage with Tank, Vardis, Kingdom Come and Acid Reign and a headlining slot has been confirmed at the Newcastle indoor festival, Brofest.

 For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Full interviews at:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/09/23/slave-to-the-rhythm-in-conversation-with-gav-gray-bassist-with-tygers-of-pan-tang/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/09/24/white-lines-interview-with-craig-ellis-drummer-with-tygers-of-pan-tang/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/09/25/all-for-the-record-with-jack-meille-vocalist-with-tygers-of-pan-tang/

THE LADY WORE BLACK with Thunderstick vocalist Raven Blackwing

Best known for his time with New Wave Of British Heavy Metal band Samson, Barry Graham-Purkis formed Thunderstick, a band renowned for its female fronted power rock. July 2017 saw the album ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ released, the first new Thunderstick product in over thirty years. Following the success of the album Graham-Purkis put a live band together for a series of festival dates and live gigs. The band recorded one of the shows and Roulette Records are releasing the live album this month.

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I caught up with lead vocalist Raven and asked her about the new album…. I’m pleased with the album. It’s raw and genuine and I’m very excited about the upcoming release. The whole gig was a blast from start to finish, a beautiful way for me to cherish the memory of that performance. It’s my first album with the band and I’m really hoping that people listening to it will pick up on the enjoyment that I and the guys had on stage that night.

How did the job with Thunderstick come about ? I was very fortunate that a guitarist friend of Barry’s had seen me play with my covers band some months earlier and passed my name across to him. I am very grateful that he did ! Although I very nearly didn’t audition because I wasn’t convinced my voice would suit, but love it and I’m learning to perfect the scream.

I’ve been with the band about 11 months now and couldn’t imagine doing anything different.

What is your performing background and are you from a musical family ? I did Theatre Studies at school and performed with the local dramatic society. But my love of music has come from my Dad singing around the house. Although he would confess he could never remember the lyrics, so it was always the same lines repeated over and over !

Have you a highlight or a magic moment on stage ? I would say playing The New Day Festival in Faversham last year, and looking out to a crowd of complete strangers singing the songs back at me. That was an amazing feeling, but then so was going abroad to France for the first time. We had such a great time and met so many amazing people.

Have Thunderstick confirmed any live dates, and anywhere near North East UK ? We are in Birmingham at Breaking Bands on the 24th May, and I’m extremely excited to be launching the next album in my home town of Deal at the Astor Theatre on the 8th August. Would love everybody to come and see where I live!

It would be so good to come up to the North East of the country to play live, an area that takes it’s rock and metal seriously. We have numerous friends and followers, not to mention fellow musicians on our Thunderstick social media pages that ask if the band will be heading out soon – as soon as we have confirmed dates we will let everyone know.

‘Something Wicked This Way Came – Live in France’ is released 20th March 2020 on Roulette Records.

Pre-order from: https://www.roulettemedia.uk/thunderstick-store

A follow-up studio album is currently being recorded and is scheduled for release in July 2020.

The full Thunderstick line-up is: Raven Blackwing (vocals) Barry Graham Purkis aka Thunderstick (drums) Vinny Konrad & Lee Quenby (guitars) & Rex Thunderbolt (bass).

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020

THE MAN WHO FELL TO SHIELDS

Stories were recently posted about Billy Roberts who was homeless in South Shields during the ‘70s and ‘80s. (Billy’s Story Dec.13th 2019). I remember Billy hanging around the town centre, and judging by the high number of readers a lot of other folk in Shields remember him – for good or bad. The memories were from a Shields resident going by the name Tinwhistler, recently they got in touch again telling me about another character from Shields, this guy I can’t recall, but this is Tinwhistlers story of Arthur -The Man Who Fell To Shields.

The developing crazy world of Arthur was to most of us, intriguing, humorous and somewhat bizarre. He could disappear for months then return with more tales beyond the belief of mortal man. Many of us gathered to play football on a Sunday morning on the Marine College field, then Arthur would show up. No he hadn’t turned up after being in London playing football for Spurs then coming to sign up for his beloved Sunderland, it now looked like his soccer career had come to an end and he decided his future lay in coal, briefly at Westoe pit.

There were other characters present at these games such as Fig Roll, Hat, Egg man and a particularly good player called Wavis. Away from football, music was a passion for most of us, Arthur expressing his taste in a variety of bands and acts varying from Elvis, Stones and Conway Twitty.

Wavis had the beginnings of something that developed later but he started a combo that was a non-musical affair – The Borestiffers. It consisted of him, me and Fig Roll. Frequent rehearsals culminated with a gig at Bolingbroke Hall in Shields. Wavis had written some good songs which were put to a non-musical backing and performed in front of a more than expected turn out, who had each paid a nominal sum for a ticket but could only gain entry if it was presented with a slice of bread as this was a charity gig for the ducks of South Marine Park.

After the gig Fig Roll left due to non-musical indifferences in order to follow a career with the Royal Mail which his mother said would keep him off the streets. Wavis’ ideas were novel and I was put on percussion involving moving most of my mother’s kitchen – pots, pans, 2 wooden spoons, tin trays, roasting trays etc. A young person called Tube was strumming a Bullworker physical exercise apparatus and the coup de grace, Arthur. This was where we could maybe turn the world upside down because if Arthur now told people he had been up on stage in front of an audience and they didn’t believe him, it could now be proven otherwise.

Arthur was there purely as ambience and to play a board game with Tube called Mad Hats on the stage floor while I held a steady rhythm on the kitchen kit and Wavis held the front stage. Three rolls of the dice later and Arthur wanted the mic and the crowd went wild.

It is now circa 1977 and as I am working, earning and drinking, Arthur tags along buying a round every 3​rd​ or 4​th​ time. He tells me again of his prowess singing in some of the bars of Shields and he took me on my first visit to the Turks Head on the Lawe Top.

The atmosphere was warm, welcoming and we could hear the sound of people enjoying their Saturday evening. A chant started We want Arthur, we want Arthur. That was it, he motioned me to follow him through, ‘Ha’way son, I’ll have to get up they want ‘is’. Arthur referred to each of us as son and we all reciprocated by calling him Fatha!

 

A couple of years later Wavis had entered the music business and mentioned more than once about his fatha who was able to destroy any standards and classics. A stage name was sought and as Adam Ant was prominent Arthur settled on Teddy Anteater. He sang along to a recorded tape, songs he knew wearing headphones. The guitar was left handed turned upside down, a Jimi Hendrix of the antimatter world. He got a couple of gigs supporting local band The Letters and then got the opportunity to hit the big time.

Wavis had contacts with a label called Anti Pop and one of their acts was Arthur 2 Stroke & The Chart Commandos. They became aware of him and had heard some of the Teddy Anteater that Wavis had played them. I arranged an introduction and accepted title of road manager. His next gig was to be with them at Newcastle University.

Their manager, Andy Inman visited me at work and I got the necessary details. The acts on the bill were formidable consisting of a talented jazz quartet, a geordie poet called Nog, a hunched back illusionist/magician who went under the name Johnny Neptune and a scantily dressed Hot Gossip type dance troupe. Teddy’s set was filmed and is now on YouTube under ‘Teddy Anteater – Newcastle University 1981’.

The brothers Viz, that is Chris and Simon Donald, were there, this before their mag went corporate. Simon was the on stage compere and Chris was selling the Viz to enthusiastic students. Both were amazed at the Teddy Anteater act, so much so that he was featured in their next issue under a heading Not many rock stars can claim to take penalties with their heads but Teddy Anteater is not many rock stars. This was a reference to one of his many fibs regarding his footballing prowess, along with his claim that he could take a corner, get into the middle to head it and then get on the goal line to save it.

The Student Union magazine reviewed the whole show and decided that Teddy was the best act of the night. The Teddy Anteater experience really ended shortly after not before the surfacing of another bizarre act known as Jarrow Elvis. This became a road show involving names like Hebburn Cliff and Pelaw Pitney. I suggested maybe Arthur might want to join this and to do so he could learn some Roxy Music songs. He didn’t care for Roxy so that was the end of him appearing as Shields Ferry!

Another story brought to you by Tinwhistler.

Edited by Gary Alikivi     February 2020.

 

 

FILL YER BOOTS – It’s no mean feat for a Tyneside charity champion

The blog is read in countries around the world including USA, Brazil, Japan and Russia, along with ex pats checking in from Australia, France and Spain – the stories travel far and wide. But closer to home a number of Tyneside residents have sent in stories about working class characters they remember. Geordie Pantsman, Tinwhistler and Dan Green have contributed, and this memory from Archive the Noo is the latest.  At their request I am posting it today as it’s the same date the big man who is featured, sadly passed away.

My memory of him was when drinking in South Shields pubs in the ‘80s you would often come across this guy – believe me you couldn’t miss him. It was on a hot sweaty Friday night we piled into a packed Scotia pub and saw he was at the bar for last orders. With his big white bucket at his feet he had been collecting for the miner’s strike. I could see he was getting frustrated and angry as the barmaids refused to serve him shouting ‘Time’s up’ as they rang the bell.

He was sweating heavily, gritting his teeth and with tears in his eyes, he gripped tightly on the handrails of the bar, stamped his feet, let out an almighty roar and led his fellow drinkers to the tune of Rule Britannia… ‘Sing yer heart out, Sing yer heart out, Sing yer heart out for the lads’….Hollered out like a defiant last breath – he only wanted a pint man.

So who was he ?

Featured today is a story from Archive the Noo and his memories of one of Tyneside’s Charity Champions, Big Hec…..If you were approached by a 6 foot 8 inch 20 stone Geordie, lurching from side to side, asking you for money with that characteristic gap between his front teeth, I wager you’d most likely think about handing it over.

You might be a bit confused by the sight of him carrying a bucket and wearing gold painted boots (size 18). But in time you would realise you’d just had a close encounter with Tyneside resident Brian Dowson, known as Big Hec.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s Big Hec, raised in approximation of £1million pounds in the name of charity, walking around Tyneside pubs, shops, metro trains and collecting donations in his bucket, taped over at the top with a slit.

He also made a cover version of Nancy Sinatra’s song ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’….(Recorded in 1990 at Brian Johnsons place (AC/DC) Lynx Studios in Newcastle, ex-Angelic Upstart Mond Cowie was studio manager and let Big Hec have the studio for nothing because it was for a charity record).

There are many endearing stories surrounding Hec. In the mid ‘70s he worked as a glass collector at the Kismet Club in Laygate and after a few beers would take to the dance floor producing incredible shapes and moves, a wondrous sight to behold.

I recall being a tad bit envious when he managed to meet his very own hero, the Dynasty starlet Stephanie Beacham, at a charity presentation.

Apart from the fact that Hec was for me a true character beyond criticism and a charitable legend worth a movie about (one of his favourite charities was the NSPCC), the essence of Big Hec is contained in my fondest story.

He once set out to beat the existing world pie eating record, held at the local Hintons supermarket store. Local TV were there and when the cameras began to roll he was presented with a tray of pies. He complained that they were too hot so filming stopped and restarted after a period of cooling. Commencing, he ate only a few and then gave up, blaming it on the big tea he had before coming out. He then burst into singing Elvis songs.

Brian had a short and colourful life, passing away from natural causes, some say a heart attack. He was born in 1957 and sadly died on 13th March 1996. May he, buried in his boots, rest in a well earned peace.

Brought to you by Archive the Noo.

Today if you go to the Laygate area of South Shields there is a plaque on the wall of Lloyds Bank – a memorial to Big Hec’s charity work. (pic. Kennie Chow)

 Edited by Gary Alikivi  2020.

 

OUR LAYGATE – in conversation with Ann Ahmed

In research I came across an article which said Laygate was the best example of integration in Britain. And it was. It is one of our best examples, so why haven’t people heard about it ? I would just like to do it justice and spread the word about the unique area where we lived. I would like other theatre’s to see it and try and play it to a wider audience. I’ll push it as much as I can. The story deserves to be told.

I met Ann at The Word in South Shields just down river from Laygate, an area where she grew up…..

I was raised in the community of Laygate after the 2nd World War and seamen settled in the area after the war. It had Arabs, Africans, Somali’s, Malaysians, it was a very tight community. The area wasn’t looked upon fondly by some people outside that community.

My grandfather and step grandfather where from the Yemen, so my dad was really dark. My mam was from Scotland, she had a terrible time from her family because she was married to a black man. She was ostracised from them. He was a seaman who was away for 2 year stretches and the money wasn’t there. No Social Security or Health Service then.

Not long ago somebody asked me ‘Did you really live in Laygate ?’…I said ‘Well I wouldn’t lie about it would I’. It had, and sometimes still has, for whatever reason, a bad reputation, but it was the friendliest, welcoming, community spirited place you could ever go. Nothing has been written about the community from this angle. Most stories are about the Arab riots, but I wanted to show what a great place it was to grow up in.

I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and I still see most of the people that lived there. I bumped into one of the girls I know and we got talking about Laygate, and she said ‘All of that will be lost, all those stories, those memories, you should write it down’. So I went away, thought about it and started writing things down.

My friend’s dad had a Somali cafe, well it was a sitting room with chairs and tables in. He would get a chicken, kill it in the backyard, and we would pluck it’s feathers out.

Once I remember coming from the shop’s with some bread and I was walking up our back lane when Hanratty was there with his horse. He would collect scrap or old clothes with a cart and horse.  He often gave out  balloon’s to kid’s who got him scrap. Well, I was desperate for a balloon so I gave the horse the bread. When I got in the house, my mam went mad, she nearly killed me, because she had 4 kids to feed.

So with more stories like these I rang Ray Spencer, Director at The Customs House and asked him would he be interested, could he see it playing at The Customs House ? We met up and after reading through them he said a definite yes.

What is the play about ? It’s about how we got on, the relationships we had, the abuse we suffered sometimes from outsiders, and it’s mostly based in our backlane, Laygate Place, with other scenes in our sitting room and Holy Trinity School.

I wanted to show how we lived together in that community, you could say from a woman and child’s perspective. Not just my family, but the Arabs at the top of the street, the Somali’s down the road, the Arab cafe just along the way. We may have had our fights and arguments as kids, but at the end of the day we are all still lifelong friends. Some I’ve known for 60 years.

How long did it take to write the play ? About 5-6 months, but with re-writing and editing, it has taken nearly two years. I got together with Susan Evans, she wrote a play for The Customs House and she showed me the format she uses, which was a great help.

How many characters are there ? We’re looking for actors for the play. We need 14 in all with 7 of them being able to play children so they should be about 16-18. It’s hard trying to get a Somali actor locally, so if anyone feels like auditioning, contact me via Facebook.

Because of cost’s involved I’ll be fundraising for the production. If people would like to donate I’ve got a GoFundMe page  gf.me/u/wz89xz   or they can contact me through Laygate Play Customs House on Facebook.

We’ve also got a fundraising Batty Bingo night at Armstrong Hall on 18th April 2020.  The last one we did had a great turnout, great tributes and the tickets for this one are selling fast as well. It’s £10 a ticket but well worth the money !

‘When the Boat Comes In’ written by Peter Mitchell has recently played at The Customs House, will it have a similar look ? It is the same as being set in the North East and we all have Geordie accents but that play dealt with unemployment, strike’s and an affair. This won’t, it’s centred on a small community.

What is your family background ? My mam had a really tough time bringing us up. We had to rely on family and friends. But, during the ‘50s and ‘60s nobody had anything, so it didn’t bother you as much as today when they want the latest games or trainers.

Having nowt we did feel it, but you just got on with it. We eventually had to leave Laygate when the Housing Act came in because it was classed as a slum. That is where the story finishes, 1968.

Where you sad to leave Laygate ?  Yes and no. I think if our house had an indoor bath and toilet I would have liked to have stayed, but it was classed as a slum.  If you wanted to go to the loo you had to go down the backstairs and into the yard. We had the blackest backsides known to man because of the newspaper we used as loo roll (laughs). We were moving to a house that had an indoor toilet and a bathroom.  It was like a palace to us!!

While I was writing the story, I organised a reunion at Trimmers bar with all my friends and people from Laygate. I told them what I was doing and that I wanted to include some stories about what they did as kid’s.

We finished by asking what was Laygate like for them growing up, and they all said it was the best time, it was lovely, it really was. We’re all proud to be from Laygate.  It was great bringing back all those memories.

It’s called ‘Our Laygate’ because to us, the kids of the ‘50s and ‘60s, when it was mostly an integrated community, it is ours. I know it’s still integrated today and it’s still a great, vibrant community – but to us, that era is ours.

Our Laygate is on at The Customs House 14th & 15th July 2020. Tickets £12.50

Interview by Gary Alikivi   September 2018.