SUNDERLAND ‘TIL HE DIES in conversation with football agent & former Sunderland A.F.C footballer, Martin Smith (part 2/2).

It’s a big mix of Sunderland fans here in South Shields (we’re talking in the Littlehaven Hotel) there is the Shields branch and the Jarrow branch. I lived in Spennymoor which at one time was all Sunderland then the Keegan era changed that, same for a few Durham pit villages.

They were so entertaining they became everybody’s second team, for a Sunderland fan that was horrible. Although the way things are now with Brucie at Newcastle, sounds like a few Mags might want to come over to our side (laughs).

A message for the Mag’s. Celebrating scoring at St James’ Park (home of Newcastle United) for Sheffield United.

Wherever I’ve been I’ve enjoyed my time, and always got players player of the year that sort of thing. My record for goalscoring was 1 in 4 and scoring a goal is one thing you cannot replace.

I scored at St James’ playing in the FA Cup for Sheffield United, we were a Championship club then. It was right in front of the Gallowgate to make it 1-1. I bent it past Harper and went off to dance around the corner flag. I lost my head, for 15 minutes after that I was on a different planet.

It doesn’t look like the best goal I scored, but it meant a lot to me. It was special. In the end we got beat 4-1. I wasn’t bothered. I had a few songs from the fans in my career ‘Martin Smith, Martin Smith, running down the wing’ and ‘Loved by the lads, feared by the Mags’ (laughs).

I was playing for England under 21’s at Newcastle and got booed every time I touched the ball. People asked if I was upset ‘No I wouldn’t want the Mags cheering for me’ (laughs).

When I was at Northampton we were playing against Mansfield and I scored putting us 3-0 up. Job done. One of our players came up to congratulate me, he seemed to be more excited than usual and I didn’t know why, ‘It’s your hundredth goal’ he shouted. He was the statto of the team – every club’s got one.

I think I played in all, 400 odd games with over 100 goals. With the injuries I’ve done well to notch that many games. The Premier League is so demanding now, have an off day and you get found out – back then I could hide on the wing for 10 minutes and get my breath back.

You look at tactics now and the lengths they go to suss out a team’s weakness, they analyse everything. Back in our day somebody would go to scout the opposition and come back with a few notes and then go through it on a Friday.

A lot of 18 year old players I know have no doubt got the ability, but it’s what they have up there that counts (points to head). Can they handle bitter rejection, what about people having a go at you, you’re not going to be the best when at previous teams you’ve always been the best, can you handle fans telling you that you’re rubbish ? Suddenly it becomes a different game.

A big difference now is the intrusion into your life. When I was playing you only had a letter in the Sports Weekly newspaper that was having a go at you, or someone shouting at you in the pub, but now it’s all over social media, and it can be constant.

Remarks from the crowd from week to week are you’re either great or rubbish, maybe the amount of money the players are getting paid is something to do with that.

Stuart Ripley (Blackburn & Middlesbrough)

A former pro told me that Stuart Ripley who used to play here in the North East for Middlesbrough, during one game when he was playing for Blackburn he was getting a hard time from the fans. There was one guy in the crowd shouting at him ‘Ripley you’re absolutely f***ing useless’.

But Stu was sitting on the subs bench with his head in his hands thinking ‘I’m getting stick and I’m not even on the pitch’.

Footballers now are so different, they are athletes. I was at Northampton later in my career when we were playing Southampton in the cup. Both teams were lined up in the tunnel, I looked around and seen every player towering above me. 6 ‘2 players going to run over the top of you.

I think it was Brendan Rodgers (Leicester manager) that said don’t class yourself as a professional footballer until you’ve played 50 games. Today you see young players with their shiny cars in the carpark, my first game as a pro I only had a Ford Escort.

Sadly, I ended up with 13 operations during my career. I done most injuries like hamstrings and calves, the longest time I missed was a full season. But my main problem wasn’t something you could see like a broken leg, it was a degenerative cartilage in my knee.

You’d have the operation then three month rehab, come back kick a ball and it would go again. This went on for 15 month and the physio’s started to question what was happening.

Martin playing for Northampton.

It all started when I was at Huddersfield, then I went to Northampton, eventually the last one happened at Darlington and I didn’t come back from that. 

I remember we were playing Macclesfield, something just didn’t feel right. I tackled and my knee blew up, I knew I was finished. I retired in 2008. I eventually went back to light training and playing in the Northern league.

Martin had a spell at Blyth Spartans in 2008.

I tried a couple of other things but I had to come back to football, it’s all I know. Now I work for a football agency, Quantum Sports, I do a bit of scouting and some radio commentary for Northampton when they play in the north which I love.

In the agency I like working with the younger lads and try to help them make the right decisions. I talk to managers and try to get the lads signed. I like being involved, seeing players develop and I offer them advice and tell them the mistakes I made.

Actually there is more chances out there for young English lads to come through because of Brexit, I know a lot of foreign lads can’t come in to the country unless they meet a certain criteria.

Scotland and Northern Ireland used to be countries for good players but stopped coming through for many years because there was maybe a Romanian or Slovak player in front of them, but now they are starting to come through again.

I mentioned the camaraderie and togetherness that football gave us as players and even now we keep in touch. We have an ex-players club where four or five times a year we get together and play golf against different clubs around the North East. The FA Cup ’73 lads still get out and a few of us younger lads play – well we’re nearly 50 now (laughs).

I don’t think there is a day goes by when I don’t think about football, wishing I was going into training or playing. I’ve got a 7 a side game tonight, just can’t give it up. For the rest of my life I’d like to stay in football in some capacity – well that’s the plan.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   August 2021

SUNDERLAND TILL HE DIES in conversation with football consultant & former Sunderland A.F.C footballer Martin Smith (part 1/2).

The blog has featured over 500 interviews with North East musicians, actors, writers and much more, but now for the first time, stories from professional football.

In the first part of this interview, Sunderland born Martin Smith talks about his influences, playing for his hometown and the impact Peter Reid had on his career.

I always wanted to be a footballer. My earliest memories in the ‘70s were kicking a ball about, and from my mam and dad’s bedroom I could see the Roker Park floodlights.

Even though I’m a massive Sunderland fan, a player that stood out for me was Spurs player Glenn Hoddle. When you watch him on the ’70s and ‘80s TV football shows there’s never a mark on him.

Everything looked effortless too him and back then he looked like an athlete, just a different player from everyone else, if he played now he’d be worth £200million.

His passing range was something I tried to do, and his first touch. When I was younger my dad used to say ‘your first touch is the most important touch’. It buys yourself time, and like Hoddle, who always had the ball glued to his feet.

When I was a 17 year old Sunderland apprentice he was managing Swindon and I was in charge of the tea. I knocked on the dressing room door, he opened it, I was staring open mouthed at him, he took the tea and shut the door. I was still there staring at the door.

For great players it was the goal scorers at Sunderland like Marco Gabbiadini, then following football on telly you’d see players like Maradona just going past people, doing something different.

Martin Smith then with Northampton, with Cristiano Ronaldo in an FA Cup game.

When I was at Northampton we pulled Manchester United in the FA Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo was in the team I think he was only 17. He was so quick, absolutely phenomenal. I’ve never played against anybody as good as him.

I watch him now on TV doing his tricks and think back when we played why didn’t I just kick him – but really by the time I brought my leg back he was gone.

You sit back and look at all his attributes, speed, skill, heading ability and yeah you think he’s got to be the number one player, you’ve got to have a level of arrogance to say ‘I’m the man’.

Paul Gascoigne was probably the best player in the world around 1990-91, what a player, he was unbelievable. But that tackle in the FA Cup final against Nottingham Forest done his knee and he wasn’t quite the same after that.

But he was strong as an ox and he did like a tackle did Gazza, he had that streak in him, yeah he could mix it. Plus I’d take him all day long over a Phil Foden or Jack Grealish.

Gazza liked a tackle, pictured in his Newcastle days by Evening Chronicle.

I was actually at Newcastle from the age of 10 to 14 at Benwell training ground. They used to bring Gazza in to train with us because they wanted to know where he was, and keep an eye on him. So he played on a Saturday then trained with us under 12’s on a Monday night. They probably had him in on a Tuesday with some other team (laughs).

It was a great education, but I got my senses and signed schoolboy terms with Sunderland. My first professional contract was also with Sunderland, towards my 17th birthday.

As an apprentice you were in from 8.30am to 5pm working hard and cleaning boots. But signing professional terms you didn’t have to do as many jobs, it was more about focusing 100% on football.

To get the first contract was great. But I tell the lads I’m working with now at Quantum Sports that the first one is probably the easiest to get, and now you’re in with seasoned pro’s are you going to improve ?

The second or third contract is where people are looking different at you, and starting to ask questions. Are your standards improving ? Can you positively effect games ? I was doing well at Sunderland, I’d been in England youth teams so didn’t worry too much, but now if you stand still the bloke behind you is going take your shirt.

I was at Sunderland from around 1990 and left in ’99. I was a winger, I did play the odd games up front, some managers took me on as a centre forward but thought I’d get as many goals with assists. Then later in my career I played deeper, by the time I was at Northampton I was centre midfield.

Peter Reid at Roker Park.

In the 94-95 season in Division 1 Sunderland were in a relegation battle when Peter Reid was brought in as manager. Near the end of the season we were playing Swindon who were also in trouble, a real six pointer. But I scored to keep us up and we won 1-0 at Roker Park to make us safe. I wonder if Reidy would have stayed if we went down ? I think he probably would of gone.

Pre-season was so hard you just wanted it out of the way and the league to start. But you had a belief, you’d look around the dressing room thinking we can do something this year. We got promoted to the Premiership with practically the same team, he only brought in a couple of players, Reidy really moved the club forward.

The progression of Sunderland from Roker Park to the Stadium of Light was something we couldn’t get our head around, from 14,000 to filling that 40,000 plus stadium. It took the club to a new level and the expectation changed massively.

I grew up with a comfy Roker Park, then suddenly you’ve got these big stands bearing down on you. That’s where Reidy done well, he brought in experienced players who could handle it.

The Stadium of Light.

By the time I’d left Sunderland after an away match Reidy had even stopped the beers on the coach home, so he was seeing things had to change.

All coaches and managers made big impacts on my career. With Peter Reid some fans thought I might not like him as I was getting a few runs in the team, but not as much as I had before he came. The truth is Reidy opened my eyes.

Back in the ‘70s footballers wouldn’t think twice about sinking three or four pints after the game, then go into town with the fans and have another three or four. We were brought into that culture and under previous managers football was different, it wasn’t as athletic as it became.

My first two years went so well I probably took my eyes off the ball in terms of fitness, but gradually that all changed and Reidy got me to knuckle down. He could see talent and got the best out of me.

He got us pressing the ball, a high tempo game. People talk about high press now, we were doing it back in the ‘90s, it’s just different terminology.

Truth was, at first I struggled with that so Reidy put me with a fitness coach from the North East called Steve Black, he had a great reputation, and had worked with the Lyons rugby team. I was with him a month and he changed my total outlook on fitness, it was hard work but worth it.

Maybe other managers would have let me drift whereas Reidy got more out of me. There was a big change in my mentality towards that side of the game. I was probably fitter nearer the end of my career than when I was younger.

When he first came to the club Reidy would join in training. In one of the sessions Martin Scott, Reidy’s first choice left back, gave him a shoulder nudge and he went flying into a puddle. Scotty started laughing, the gaffer said nothing. Next time Scotty got the ball it was a two footer down the shins from the gaffer.

Vinny Jones at Wimbledon said our captain Kevin Ball was the hardest player he played against – but every day I had to train with Bally and he was an animal. He had a very strong will to win and he epitomised everything Reidy instilled in us at the club.

The squad at the time was excellent, a tight camaraderie fostered by Reidy and Bobby Saxton. Now and then he would get the lads together and have a bit of a blow out, maybe take us away for weekends. A great bunch of lads with big Niall Quinn in there, yeah great times.

From the lows of battling through injuries to the highs of scoring, how today’s footballers cope with pressure, plus what Martin is doing in football now. Read part two on the next post.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  August 2021

IRON MAN OF NORTON – with Teesside songwriter & producer Steve Thompson

Thompson releases two compilation albums this month, the first Iron Man of Norton on Friday 20 and another to follow, Second Shipment  on 27 August.

Iron Man is my cycling name and it speaks of the prowess of my ability to go for miles and miles (laughs)’.

Toward the end of last year Thompson signed a licensing deal with Cherry Red Records and since the turn of 2021 has been busy releasing his back catalogue of songs.

‘The Bullfrog stuff (Steve’s first band) gave me the idea of a boxed set, then tracks I produced for Southbound 30 odd years ago, plus some stuff I did with Alvin Stardust and other bits and pieces’.

Thompson first appeared on the radar working at Impulse Studio in Wallsend, the home of Heavy Metal label Neat records – he produced the first singles by Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang.

‘When I quit as Godfather of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal I moved out of Impulse Studio and needed somewhere to create. Luck would have it six month later I had a massive hit with ‘Hurry Home’. Not long after that an even bigger one with Celine Dion – that’s a whole other story’.

After the band Wavelength went on Top of the Pops with ‘Hurry Home’, the royalties started piling in and Thompson bailed out of Wallsend and set up a new base further along the North East coast in Whitley Bay.

Demo’s were made of the Tygers of Pan Tang albums ‘The Wreckage’ and ‘Burning in the Shade.

‘That studio became the ‘Brill’ building in Whitley Bay for several years with a lot of muso friends dropping in and adding bits and pieces. A lot of tracks have ended up on these two compilation albums’.

‘We recorded a bunch of tracks with a guy who became Baby Ford. There was one track from those sessions, I don’t know what it referred to but it got us a BBC ban – although it didn’t stop it becoming a chart hit. Actually Lorraine Crosby (who sang on the Meatloaf hit ‘I’d Do Anything for Love’) sang a lot of backing vocals on those’.

Tygers fans will be interested in the original version of Paris By Air that appears on the Second Shipment album. The Tygers covered the song and had a hit with the track, it also appeared on their top 20 album The Cage.  

‘On the second album is the original sung by Toni Halliday, she was only 16 at the time. There was another young 16 year old guy who hung around the studio called Andy Taylor. He played on some Toni Halliday stuff, he was one of my session guys. You could see he was soaking it all in’.

Recently, Taylor recorded an interview on Planet Rock radio where he gave credit to Thompson for giving him his first break in production.

‘It’s really nice of him to do that as it was a while ago’.

(link: www.bit.ly/andyplanet)

‘I was 25 then and Andy used to call me and the other muso’s around who were my contemporaries – boring old farts. He said he was going to be a major rock star. He wanted to cut a couple of tracks on vocals and guitar’.

‘Toni Halliday talked a lot about her life and ambitions while living a hum drum life on a council estate in Washington. Out of that the story of ‘Paris By Air’ emerged…..

‘I don’t know a soul in this neighbourhood, who can afford the fair, and I’m stuck here for good’.

‘But I didn’t know much about Andy’s background other than how ambitious he was’.

‘A guitarist friend of mine, Stu Burns, God bless him he’s not with us now, was in a band called The Squad. I was taken by their ballsy, Phil Spector type songs. They had a song ‘Hey Gene’ and I thought that would be good for Andy’.

‘It was written by John Farmer of The Squad. Stu engineered the session for me in the bands makeshift basement studio’.

‘Hey Gene’ is on the Iron Man of Norton album, the original b side of that record Catch a Fast Train can be found on Second Shipment. Thompson remembers one unforgettable day in the studio with Andy Taylor.

‘He looked in The Melody Maker and he saw a notice bigger than all the others and said… ‘I’m gonna audition for this’. So he went to Birmingham to audition for this band. He came back and said…

‘I got the gig’. We said ‘what they called ?’  

We all fell about laughing saying ‘you’re going to get nowhere with a band called Duran, Duran’. How wrong can you be.

Both compilation albums contain a couple of tracks by Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs.

‘Tony called me up one day to record in the studio. He wanted me to record two songs in one day but also wanted a drummer and a bass player for the session.

I got in Paul Smith who I used a lot, I played bass, we were the Geordie Groundhogs. He paid Smithy, and for the day session. I played and produced for free’.

‘When the session was over he said have you got a bed to put me up for the night ? I phoned up my wife and said we’re going to put this guy up but he says he’s a vegetarian. We hadn’t a clue what he ate’.

‘Anyway he did sleep over but next day he woke up and just pissed off without saying goodbye – I might hear from him when these tracks come out (laughs)’.

Find both albums here:

Iron Man Of Norton: Boxed Set out on Friday 20 August 2021.

http://steve-thompson.org.uk/iron-man-of-norton-boxed-set-various-artists/

Iron Man of Norton: ‘Second Shipment’ out on Friday 27 August 2021.

http://steve-thompson.org.uk/iron-man-of-norton-second-shipment-various-artists/

Gary Alikivi   August 2021

JAZZ PARTY – in conversation with drummer & first leader of the Green Party Group on South Tyneside, Councillor David Francis.

I really believe there are pivotal moments in your life. There are times when things happen and put your life in a different direction. I remember as a kid getting the first Van Halen album and it totally blew my mind, I thought it was amazing – still do now. When I put the record on the turntable, and hearing for the first time Eruption.

I started playing guitar first, and at school had a good teacher who encouraged me on the drums. Then I completed a degree at Leeds College of Music and came back to the North East and got into a bit of teaching, gigging and working in a drum shop.

Around 2010 I was in a bookshop in Newcastle when I picked up Labour MP Tony Benn’s diaries and thought, well there’s more important things going on in the world than drums. I wasn’t happy about how things were going under the coalition so looked at the Green Party – and joined in 2014.

FIRST LOVE

The first music I was into was Michael Jackson then quickly got into rock like Hendrix, Cream then more modern stuff like Iron Maiden. I would go to Pet Sounds in Newcastle and pick up second hand vinyl for £3.00 and also visit the record fairs. I progressed to listening to Frank Zappa and lots of jazz.

There is links with musicians in the North East who have played with known musicians, some are a bit tenuous but others are more legit. I’d point out that my own links to anyone well known where more tenuous than legit, but I did cross paths with people like Gerry Richardson and Ronnie Pearson who were in Last Exit with Sting when he lived up here in the ‘70s.

Gerrie was an organ player and went onto teach music at Newcastle College then The Sage Gateshead. Ronnie was the drummer and went on to have a drum shop in Newcastle. I met them and played in bands a few times with Gerry and worked with Ronnie’s son who also had a drum shop.

Although I doubt Gerry remembers me now as a lot of jazz gigs were thrown together and you would meet loads of other musicians that would lead to getting gigs. It would often be –  ‘We need a drummer next week, can you do it?’

GOING LIVE

I was in loads of bands over the years playing jazz. When it first opened the Sunderland Glass Centre had a posh restaurant and on a Friday and Saturday they would have a trio playing in the corner – I was the drummer from time to time, that’s where I met Gerry.

When I first started playing jazz gigs after my music degree in the late ‘90s there wasn’t an easy way to find out what was going on, then there was a guy called Lance Liddle from South Tyneside who started a Jazz blog. He would review gigs, then add what was coming up.

There was a number of venues in Newcastle like the Jazz Café run by Keith Crombie, there was The Bridge Hotel, and a pub called Beamish Mary, we played those venues a lot. I was also playing in a bluesy rock band at the time, plus doing corporate gigs in places like Edinburgh and Birmingham.

Then a few gigs for the Royal Television Society awards dinner at The Sage. They were a bit surreal as you’d be playing when Aled Jones or Reeves & Mortimer come up on stage to get an award (laughs).

The Customs House Big Band

BIG BRASS SOUND

Through those bands I ended up at South Shields Customs House in the late ‘90s playing in the Big Band which was first put together by Joe Peterson (Community Arts Officer) and first ran by Tommy Moran, then Keith Robinson when I was there. We’d have a rehearsal once a week then go for a drink in The Steamboat. I met my wife at that time – Elaine was a saxophone player.

Most of the time I spent learning how to be a good musician but not spending time out hustling getting gigs, I was waiting for people to call me. I’d get a message to go to Harrogate on a New Year’s Eve and if you done well one of the musicians would recommend me to another gig.

In those jazz gigs you’re playing a fairly standard set rather like rock covers doing Hendrix, even if you haven’t worked it out note for note you know how they go. A lot of musicians have a back catalogue of songs in there (points to head) that they can play.

THAT’S THE TONIC

I did play a lot of gigs where it was written out and as a decent enough music reader I got through. You learn a lot of improvisation and skills on some gigs. One time I got a call off a bass player who I regularly worked with, ‘Can you do a gig in North Allerton with an American keyboard player called Dave Keys’. ‘Yes sounds good’ I said.

He directed the songs, all his, all original, you really had to pay attention and follow his lead. He’d say things like ‘This is a shuffle and a couple of stops, I’ll nod my head at the stop’ those sorts of things you know, directing the song as its being played – in front of the audience (laughs).

But music has common phrases and chord progressions that come up time and time again and you can work through it. I enjoyed the buzz of jazz and improvisation, the not knowing keeps it fresh. There is a saying ‘It’s never the same way once, never mind twice’ (laughs).

Drumming on stage with Tony Bengtsson.

THE MARKET

You’ve got to work on your business and I did eventually take control of that side of things, around 2010. What happened was I was teaching in schools, doing some private lessons, playing gigs but not earning much because I was travelling all over the place.

So I started to build up work closer to home and getting contacts, it’s the working on your business, not just in it, that was needed. Lately in music I’ve played on an album with singer/songwriter Tony Bengtson, he plays a folk, country, Americana style, he’s a really good player and maybe not getting as much recognition as he deserves.

WATCHING THE WORLD GO ROUND

I suppose the performance aspect is a parallel between musician and politician, there may be something in the saying that ‘Politics is showbusiness for ugly people’. It wasn’t in the family at all, my parents took an interest in, but weren’t active in politics.

When I was a kid we lived in the States for a year and on a basic level I became aware of the American history, like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, the  Civil Rights movement, and as I got older I took an interest in current affairs and politics.

I remember being a student in Leeds watching TV shows Spitting Image and Have I Got News For You and then the 1997 election and Tony Blair getting in, a real air of optimism after the Thatcher decade. I’d always listen to Talk radio and listened to the political commentators, watched Question Time, but always observing not taking part.

Around 2010 when I was in a bookshop in Newcastle I picked up a copy of one of Tony Benn’s diaries, then read other volumes and thought, well there’s more important things going on in the world than drums.

With Green’s Deputy Leader, Amelia Womack in South Shields.

GO GREEN

A musician friend who I mentioned earlier, Tony Bengston, was standing as a Green candidate. I wondered what was going on and I wasn’t happy about how things were going under the coalition plus not being enamoured about The Labour Party so I looked at the Green Party and found they weren’t just a one issue party. Actually they were somebody I could connect with and feel more comfortable with, so I joined in 2014.

We’d done a beach litter pick and it felt good to do this in South Shields with nice people, but importantly it was a tangible thing to do, a contribution to improving the area. Then within weeks we were out on the streets knocking on doors. Not long after an opportunity arose to meet the Green’s Deputy Leader Amelia Womack when she came to South Tyneside – the result was I got more involved.

I got elected a few years ago then a few more candidates followed so we aren’t looked upon as the party in South Tyneside who have no chance. Labour has a long history in this town and some responses on the doorstep are ‘I’ve always voted Labour and not interested in anyone else’. Which is fair enough, I get that.

In the council chamber, Town Hall, South Shields.

I HEAR YOU KNOCKING

I’ve only had experience of knocking on doors for the Greens so don’t know what it’s like for everyone else but when I first started in this area (Beacon & Bents, South Shields), a lot of people weren’t sure who we were, some people thought we were the same as Greenpeace. At first we’d hear on the doorstep ‘Are you all about saving the whales?’

Some people aren’t interested, or are watching TV, or got the dinner on, but generally people are really nice and give you a bit time even when they don’t agree with you. Then it got to the stage when people knew of what we were doing, they’d see or hear us working with people and trying to improve the local area.

It surprised me how favourable the response was becoming when people got to know us, and even if they don’t want to talk to you they are still civil about it. You aren’t going to please all the people.

I remember the worst reaction I had was when someone answered the door and he was trying to be polite and his other half was upstairs shouting ‘Just tell him to f*** off’. I’m glad I wasn’t face to face with her – he just looked a bit embarrassed (laughs).

A lot of people just want to talk to you if they have an issue with fly tipping in their back lane or sorting out wonky pavements in the street. They want to talk to somebody who can go away and get something done.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  August 2021

A TYNESIDE HERITAGE – new book by author, Peter S. Chapman

Cleadon born Chapman has enjoyed a varied career – educated to Master’s degree level leading to a housing career in London. He’s devoted time to being chair of a number of charities – manuscript restoration in Egypt, Archaeology & Anthropology in Cambridge and even found time for a local youth football team – The Kensington Dragons.

But Chapman, who lives in London, still retains close links to the North East…

The South Shields Local History Group invited me to give a lecture on the lives and public service of my grandparents, Sir Robert and Lady Chapman. It was their lives, and their exceptional contribution to South Shields and Tyneside, which inspired me to write ‘A Tyneside Heritage’.

It was quite an undertaking and took me six years. My research into family and Tyneside history was fresh in my mind and if I didn’t write the book now it would never get written.

Summer fetes at the Chapman home, Undercliff, were popular events throughout the 1930s.

As a teenager I became fascinated by my grandparents’ collection of scrapbooks at Undercliff, their house in Cleadon where I was born. These scrapbooks recorded family events over three decades from the 1930s, and some newspaper articles covered events in early nineteenth century Tyneside.

The 424 page book weaves the Chapman family story with local history. He features the boom on Tyneside of the industrial revolution and the bust that followed culminating with the Jarrow March of 1936 and Ellen Wilkinson MP taking the Jarrow platform in one of her speeches “The unemployment rate was over 80 per cent, 23,000 are on relief out of a total population of 35,000”.

With his family heavily involved in local politics I mentioned to Peter about my Great Uncle Richard Ewart who, after working at Whitburn Colliery, was Sunderland MP in 1945.

He and my grandfather would have known each other on the South Shields Borough Council in the late 1930s.
My Grandfather was Col Sir Robert Chapman (1880-1963), at the time of the First World War he was Major Robert Chapman. He became a South Shields Borough Councillor, MP for Houghton-le-Spring 1931-1935 and Chairman of the Team Valley Trading Estate. He had numerous business and charity directorships and chairmanships.

Richard Ewart’s life, including at Parliament, was extremely interesting to read about, and there would have been numerous Parliamentary bills on which he would have brought his ‘real life’ experience to bear – no full time professional politicians in those days.

He would have been in good company in the House of Commons, with many former miners representing County Durham constituencies, including Jack (later Lord) Lawson at Chester-le-Street and Bill (later Lord) Blyton at Houghton-le-Spring. Both feature in my book, which has a good index.

Outside Undercliff July 1941, left to right: Col Robert Chapman, Major Robin Chapman & wife Barbara, Helene Chapman, Nicholas Chapman. (pic. James Cleet)

Chapman features the invaluable work of South Shields historian & photographer Miss Amy Flagg (1896-1965), who I made a documentary about in 2016.

Yes I watched it, a really good film, and Amy Flagg’s history writings and World War Two photos feature in my book I am very pleased to say. When researching the book I also came across some unusual stories including the one about new potatoes during the Battle of the Somme, in World War One.

Food rations were basic during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Major Robert Chapman told his junior artillery officers that a field of potatoes had been discovered nearby. Under the pretext of searching for a ‘forward observation post’ they dug them up and enjoyed their first new potatoes since leaving England eighteen months earlier. 

Are you working on any other projects?

I have one or two ideas for future projects. Meanwhile I am writing articles and am busy preparing for upcoming lectures and events.

I have already had what my wife Joan and I called a ‘book warming’ party for ‘A Tyneside Heritage’ in London. However, the focus of book events will be in the North East with a launch in the afternoon of October 20 at a venue to be confirmed.

A talk has been arranged in Sunderland at 2.30pm on Monday 18 October during Sunderland Libraries Literature Festival and a talk at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle at 6.00pm on Thursday 21 October. 

The cover price for the book, published by History Press, is £25. Peter Chapman is offering it to followers and their friends in the UK for £15 including package and postage (payable on delivery).

If you live overseas contact Peter for a p&p quote.

email: peterschapman@chapmanlondon.com or

write to: 53 Highlever Road, London W10 6PR.

Provide your full name and postal address. Peter will send the invoice with the book.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  August 2021

LIFE IN COLOUR – with Sheila Graber at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery

An exhibition is being held in South Shields to celebrate the 81 years of inspirational art and animation of Sheila Graber. I asked Sheila how the exhibition came about ?

I was invited by Geoff Woodward, Museum Curator at Tyne & Wear Museum to start planning the show in 2017 with an aim to celebrating 80 years of ‘Making’ – Drawing, Painting, Animating and Teaching, an exhibition to fill Shields Museum in May 2020. However COVID had other ideas.

Thanks to this, the show has gained in power as I think now everyone knows the importance of making things to ‘help pass the time’  and stop them going crackers.

It is great for me to see it is attracting all ages from my cousin Malcolm 90 year old who, being an ex-Chief Engineer, liked the view of the Industrial River Tyne I painted in 1970, to little Amelia aged 3, who loved spotting Cats knitted by my friend Jen in the ‘Quizicat Trail’ and gained a prize and hi-five from me and QC.

The show is unusual in that it covers not only my own work but that of over 30 ex-pupils – now in their 60’s, and in turn, work by up to five generations of pupils or families. I have been looking in most Fridays from 12 to 3pm and it has been brilliant to meet up with some of them and see how they are still enjoying making today. 

Everyone has a life-story to tell – it’s just by lucky chance I happened to have illustrated mine as I lived it. So the paintings, drawings and videos of Shields and Shields people, is also bringing in a wide range of folks from all walks of life. 

I hoped that this show might spark off memories for others about their life and work – I am very pleased to see it is doing just that. Why not come along and see what memories it sparks for you.

Sheila from Shields exhibition runs to October 30th 2021.

Check out Sheila’s work on the official website:
http://www.sheilagraberanimation.com/SSCRAINBOW/

Interview by Gary Alikivi   August 2021

SHEILA from SHIELDS #2 – Exhibition at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery

An exhibition is being held in South Shields to celebrate the 81 years of inspirational art and animation of Sheila Graber. Invited to the exhibition was former pupil Allyson Stewart.

‘Sheila was my art teacher at the Grammar school and when I first went into the class I was thinking I don’t know what I’m doing here. I can’t draw, I can’t paint, but over a period of weeks I think it was the way Sheila was teaching us without it feeling like she was teaching us’.

‘And I began to realise it wasn’t about how well you can paint it’s more about how you can be creative. When I started to learn about perspective that’s when it kicked in for me, I suddenly realised I could draw street scenes and buildings that actually looked like a building’.

‘That was quite a revelation and since then I’ve done a few bits and pieces that have been done with pen and ink, that’s my favourite medium. I can’t paint I’m useless with a paint brush, but with pen and ink it just feels right to me’.

‘But then I joined Sheila’s Cine Animation group and that was great, something completely different at the time at the Grammar school it was pretty radical. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. That taught me all about timing, getting things right and putting them in the right order, keeping accurate records. I gather that the animation film that I made is now on You Tube thanks to Sheila – so hopefully I can live that down’.

‘First person that taught me that anything was possible was a teacher called Stan Coates at Stanhope Juniors.  The last thing he ever said to me when I left school was I expect to see your name in writing someday young lady. And then nothing ever fired me up until Sheila was teaching me. And she taught me you haven’t got to be a brilliant painter, you haven’t got to be a great designer, you haven’t got to know how to structure a painting, it’s all about how you feel and how you can interpret it’.

‘And that was a revelation to me and I think that’s what rekindled the spark that you don’t have to paint you can write. You can find a creative outlet some other way, and that was really helpful for me. Now I’m back into doing the writing, loving every minute, so thanks to Stan and thanks to Sheila I’m loving every minute, I’m living the life and love it’.

Also invited to the exhibition was writer and retired Shields Gazette journalist, Janis Blower, who started off with a piece of poetry by James Henry Lee Hunt.

Abou Ben Adhem may his tribe increase, awoke one night from a deep dream of peace.

And saw within the moonlight in his room, making it rich and like a lily in bloom,

An angel writing in a book of gold.

‘I have a love of angels as they are depicted in art and stained glass, and also in one of the loves of my creativity – which has been sewing. The angels started with my oldest sister Pam, who we lost in 2019 unfortunately. As a child I used to share a bed with her in the attic bedroom. I was frightened of the dark so to comfort me she would sing songs and recite poems that she’d learned at school’.

‘One of the poems was Abuben Adden and that image of the angel writing in his book of gold really seized my imagination. The words seemed to come off the page already burnished and glowing and that struck me as the writer I’ve become – the power of words’.

‘Angels has become a favourite motif too stitch, I’ve had a lifelong love of sewing and embroidery going all the way back to the days when I first made a tea tray cloth at Ocean Road school when I was aged about 8 or 9 which I still have to this day. It was the start of a lifelong love of sewing, embroidery and cross stich which has been a great comfort at times over the years’.

‘I’ve known Sheila for many years because she actually taught me art when I was a pupil at South Shields Girl’s Grammar School. I remember very vividly her enthusiasm and her belief that anybody could be creative. I’m not sure that I believed it at the time, but I’ve come to realise that it’s true, and it’s something you pick up from this wonderful exhibition that she has of her life and art.

The message being that there is creativity in everybody if you know where to look for it’.

The exhibition runs from 17 May – 30 October 2021

Interviews by Gary Alikivi  2021

SHEILA from SHIELDS – Exhibition at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery

An exhibition is being held in South Shields to celebrate 81 years of inspirational art and animation of Sheila Graber. Invited to open the exhibition was Pam Royle, Tyne Tees newsreader for more than 30 years. I caught up with Pam who told me how she first met Sheila.

‘I first met Sheila when she was doing some animation work for Tyne Tees Television in the 1980’s and we’ve been firm friends since. I’ve always admired Sheila’s work from animation to illustrations to absolutely everything she does and the fact she teaches it with such patience and wisdom’.

‘Sheila has also met some members of my family. We’ve always been quite creative in my family, just love expressing ourselves through paintings, drawings, Sheila met my son when he was about 8 and he drew some things for her. Basically things like machinery, cars, tractors, aeroplanes that sort of thing. And then he went on to work in the countryside and on the land.

Sheila said it’s really interesting because what happens when you are young you draw things that have a relevance to your later life because you draw what you are passionate about’.

‘I think this exhibition reveals that art is so important to all our lives, it’s a way of expressing ourselves, it’s a connection with your soul and your mind. I just think this exhibition is fantastic and I’m so grateful that Sheila asked me and my family to be a part of it’.

Also invited to the exhibition to record a quick video message and talk about why she loves art so much was South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck.

‘Art is so universal no matter where you are in the world no matter what language you speak it always can send a message to you and speak to you. Some of my favourite types of art are the religious ones. Like Caravaggio where you can spend absolutely hours and just get lost in all of the detail.

Also I’m here to look at Sheila’s exhibition. Sheila Graber is a great friend of mine, a local legend, so please if you have an opportunity get yourself down here to have a look you won’t regret it’.

At the exhibition opening was Ray Spencer MBE, Director of the Customs House, South Shields. He talked about his first experience of art.

‘When I was a kid about the only art I saw was in museums or books, in books they were only little plates. I used to look at these fantastic portraits, landscapes and seascapes, but they were just little plates. If you went into museums you saw big plates or the originals’.

‘When I done my degree I went to the Louvre in Paris and it was the first time I walked into a room and seen the works of Delacroix and El Greco. I went to Amsterdam and saw Rembrandts – these huge massive things.

I was so excited so fantastically elated seeing something I couldn’t comprehend from those little books. That’s what I‘ve wanted to do all my time in culture to make people feel as excited as I did in the Louvre. Sheila has done that throughout her life’.

‘You look through this exhibition and you see how many lifelong friends she’s had, how many people she has influenced, not just to go professionally into the arts, but to always love and appreciate the arts’.

‘She has this enormous capacity to be interested in everybody, to light a flame in everybody to get involved in the arts. And importantly to believe in their creativity, not to be measured by somebody else’s creativity but to believe in your own creativity and to know what you do is important’.

‘That is something that we will all be thankful to Sheila for, for the hundreds and thousands of people that she has engaged with the arts’.   

The exhibition at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery runs from 17 May – 30 October 2021

For more info check the official website:

http://www.sheilagraberanimation.com/SSCRAINBOW/

Interviews by Gary Alikivi  2021