BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND – snapshot of musician & teacher Jack Brymer (1915–2003)

A post last summer featured professional jazz musician Kathy Stobart (link below). The post highlighted her link from being born in South Shields to playing residencies in London, New York and Los Angeles to sharing a bill with Radiohead. But what about a link from South Shields to The Beatles via Dracula ?

A few weeks ago I received a message from a friend ‘Have you heard of Jack Brymer ? He used to live in South Shields. He was a famous musician’. I hadn’t come across the name so checked him out and was surprised to find he was a session musician who played on Hammer horror movie soundtracks starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I got a bigger surprise to find he appeared on The Beatles track A Day in the Life.

Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus pandemic the Local History library in South Shields is closed, and I would usually check details there, but this is what I’ve found using Ancestry, Musicians Gallery, and various BBC interviews and video clips on You Tube. Facts were checked as much as possible.

In 1911 John and Mary Brymer lived at 92 South Woodbine Street, South Shields. They had two children, then on 27th January 1915, John was born, later to be known as Jack. 

John senior was a house builder who played clarinet, and with no formal instruction, his young son attempted to play the wind instrument. Throughout his young life Jack appreciated listening to a wide range of musical styles from jazz to brass-bands. He later insisted that all these genres had been of great value to him professionally.

In a BBC interview he said ‘Playing the clarinet was a natural thing because after all I can’t remember not playing it. From the age of 5 I can’t remember life without the clarinet’.

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Jack trained as a teacher and joined the teaching staff at a school in Croydon. He taught the odd combination of physical education and musical appreciation. In his spare time he played in amateur musical ensembles.  

During the Second World War Jack served in the Royal Air Force. After basic training he was promoted to corporal as a physical training instructor.

After the war he returned to his teaching post, and in 1947 on the recommendation of professional musicians, Jack received a surprise telephone call from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra inviting him to audition. At first Jack thought it was one of his friends winding him up. But he went along and after playing, badly he recalled, a call came in next day – and a contract.

Throughout his career Jack enjoyed an interest in mainstream jazz and performed as a soloist with many of the leading British and American jazz players.

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He said ‘I don’t think musicians should just be musicians. I’m quite sure having a University degree in Physics is going to make you a better musician. You know more about life, it must make you a better musician. Admittedly academic knowledge is not the be all and end all but it must have a reflection on your whole outlook on life’.

He was a frequent broadcaster, both as a player and presenter, and made recordings of solo works with orchestras. He also played in both BBC and London Symphony Orchestra and was professor at the Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Military School of Music.

Now to the recording of A Day in the Life by The Beatles during January and February 1967. The song appeared on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and was recorded in Abbey Road Studio. I watched the music video for the song and there he was, at 13 seconds in, laughing with a colleague while putting his coat over a chair.

The song crescendo features forty musicians selected from the London and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras. Producer George Martin said that Lennon requested ‘A tremendous build-up, from nothing up to something like the end of the world’.

Martin added ‘When I went into the studio the sight was unbelievable. The orchestra leader, David McCallum, was sitting there in a bright red false nose. He looked up at me through paper glasses. Every member of the orchestra had a funny hat on above the evening dress, and the total effect was completely weird’.

The recording for Jack was surely a highlight from a very distinguished career, did he think it would be one of The Beatles greatest songs and still listened to over 50 years later ?

To celebrate his 70th birthday the LSO paid Brymer tribute with a special concert, and another to mark his 75th at the Barbican Hall, London. He published two volumes of memoirs and a book about the clarinet. Sadly, Jack died at the age of 88 in Redhill, Surrey.

He didn’t do too bad for a builder’s son from South Shields, who had many day’s in his life to remember.

 Link to Kathy Stobart feature:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/06/25/all-that-jazz-snapshot-of-the-life-of-professional-musician-kathy-stobart-1925-2014/

 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.

 

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.

 

 

TYNE CRIMES with Natasha Windham, author of new book ‘Jarrow Murders and Misdemeanours’.

When researching the book did you come across any unusual or strange stories ? Maybe more shocking than unusual, but the amount of gun crime I uncovered surprised me. Jarrow really was like the wild west of the North-East! Also included in the book is a story about a Jarrovian one-legged arsonist who later became a popular comedian and dancer. That was certainly one of my more unusual stories.

What inspired you to write the book ? I’ve always been interested in true crime and had been studying Jarrow from a genealogical point of view. I was trying to understand what the town would have been like when my ancestors were living there in the Victorian period. My interest widened and I began to keep notes on the stories that had shocked me the most. I then had several days last spring when I was feeling more inspired than usual which resulted in me contacting Amberley Publishing and securing a book deal.

What is your connection to Jarrow ? Half of my family are from Jarrow, including my dad and grandad. I can trace my paternal family in Jarrow as far back as 1848. Over the years, the Windham family have lived on High Street, St Paul’s Road, Catherine Street, Bede Row, Sheldon Street, Buddle Street and Valley View. My dad and distant cousins still live there today.

What are your memories of the town ? I remember visiting my great-aunt, Jenny, on the Hedworth estate. She lived on a street called Greenlands and I remember the sounds of the metro trains passing by. Jenny was quiet, sweet and unassuming, and every time we visited, she would give me and my brother mars bars and bags of jelly babies. She had an incredibly kind and helpful neighbour called Billy who really looked after her in her old age. Sadly, they’re no longer with us.

Have you any ideas for your next book ? I think so. I’m considering one idea in particular, but I’m unsure whether it will come to anything. There are moments in my life when my mind is filled with too many creative ideas and it’s difficult sometimes to untangle them and decide what to focus on.

‘Jarrow Murders and Misdemeanours’ is released 15th May and available to pre-order from Amazon, WH Smith and other online retailers including the publisher Amberley.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   March 2020.

THE KING, THE QUEEN & THE PUNK

1977 saw three big events happen in the small seaside town of South Shields in the North East of England. The boxer Muhammad Ali had his wedding blessed, the Queen visited on her Royal Silver Jubilee and three lads from a working class housing estate formed a punk band, the Angelic Upstarts – where else would you see these in a film together ?

Usually there’s a story behind why I made the film, how did I come across these events and put them together ? The answer is I can’t remember. Just before this I made Designs for Life, a documentary about tattoo’s – did I come across the story then ? Usually there’s a spark and I write a few notes on planning the film – but the only thing I remember is I didn’t work too much on it, some projects take a lot of digging around, numerous scripts are written, but on this one each contact lead to another making the process easier. Maybe I’ll remember more by the next post.

This blog features stories and soundbites from contributors to the documentary made in 2013. The short film was narrated by Alistair Robinson, music from The Panic Report and the Dipsomaniacs, with excellent photographs by South Shields photographer Freddie Mudditt (Fietscher Fotos) and Derek Cajiao.

Start.

Narration: 1977 was an extraordinary year of royalty and revolution. It was the storm that followed the calm. We’d had the long hot summer of ’76 and the high water mark of disco and glam rock.

Trevor Cajiao: The glam thing happened when I was 12/13 year old and I loved all that stuff Slade, Sweet and Mud.

Neil Newton: I remember Wizzard coming on and the bloke with the big hair his face all painted and being mesmerized by that.

Narration: Many 1970’s teenagers were enjoying their first live gigs from such established and diverse acts as Chuck Berry and Black Sabbath.

Richard Barber: My first gig was February 1977 I went to see Black Sabbath at Newcastle City Hall on the Technical Ecstasy tour. We were second row from the back and as soon as Ozzy came on he went ‘Everyone go fuckin’ wild’ and everyone piled down the front. One kid had a big wooden cross and that just got chucked somewhere.

Trevor Cajiao: When I heard rock n roll that’s what I realised that I wanted to get into. I saw Chuck Berry at the City Hall in 1976, it was fantastic, blew me away.

Narration: 1977 was a sad time for fans of Marc Bolan and Elvis Presley. Both stars died young.

Colin Smoult: The death of Elvis was a big impact on everybody, even if you were into Elvis or not because he was such an iconic figure.

Neil Newton: My mam was a big fan of Elvis I remember the day he died it didn’t really have much of an impact on us cos I wasn’t particularly a fan – but he had some canny tunes.

Narration: In the North East we saw a visit from the American president Jimmy Carter and in the same year the Queen came to South Shields on Friday 15th July as part of her Silver Jubilee. The very next day a King came to town.

Derek Cajiao: I’d been given a camera for my birthday I hadn’t had much experience using the camera but I went down to take some photographs and I managed to catch Ali as he passed the fairground and the Sea Hotel. I got some great shots of him on the bus and it was fairly apparent he was playing the crowd, pointing at people, threatening to jump out of the bus and chin somebody, really working the crowd.

Pat Robinson: (Her husband Sepp Robinson was Mayor). We were on the top of the bus and at one point it rained so at one of the pubs we passed I said to my husband go and get a bottle of whisky, we passed it round cos we were so cold and wet, at least it warmed us through for a few minutes. Muhammad Ali’s wedding was blessed and we all went to the mosque and these incredibly beautiful people arrived, they were both stunning and dressed in white. Afterwards we went to Gosforth Park for a fantastic lunch and right through the two days when the cameras were on Ali turned on the big lip but when he wasn’t doing that he was a sensitive, pleasant, attentive man. He was absolutely charming.

Narration: But away from the glamour and celebrity a sense of frustration was taking hold. The soundtrack was one of anger, the future seemed bleak and the music was reflecting that.

Colin Smoult: I think the music change in 1977 was down to the blandness being presented in the charts, novelty singles, very middle of the road stuff. Bands appearing on Top of the Pops that were no better than a cabaret act. There was no wonder that the punk revolution came along.

Neil Newton: When punk came along I was much more aware of it because it was so direct.

Trevor Cajiao: A lot of people were saying the whole punk thing was like the rock n roll of the ‘50s as it was a rebellious type of thing but as a kid I didn’t understand that because I was just using my ears and The Clash don’t sound like the Johnny Burnett Trio, but in hindsight what they were getting at was the actual energy, the guitar music, rebelling against stuff.

Narration: In South Shields three friends from the Brockley Whins Estate started a punk band The Angelic Upstarts and little did they know where it would lead them.

Mensi: The nucleus of the band really was me, Decca and Mond.

Mond: We had known each other since we were kids, we used to hang around the shops at Brockley Whins.

Decca: They said here Decca we’re forming a band and you’re gonna be the drummer.

Mond: We found you can hire the Bolingbroke Hall and we used to get about 300 people in.

Decca: I think that’s when we started to take it serious, we all got our heads together. I mean Mensi was a prolific song writer.

Mensi: I just write about what’s happening around us.

Decca: He came out with Murder of Liddle Towers, the song that made us famous. Next you know you’re on Top of the Pops and the rest is history.

Narration: The end of the 1970’s saw people looking forward to a new decade. Would we ever see a year like 1977 again.

Closing music & credits.

 DVD’s of The King, The Queen & The Punk (25 mins 2013) are available, along with other South Tyneside documentaries, to buy from The Word and South Shields Museum or watch the edited version on the Alikivi You Tube channel.

Gary Alikivi   February 2020.

 

 

LADY IN RED – with author Paula Bartley talking about Ellen Wilkinson MP (1891-1947)

March 8th 2016 three of my short films were screened at an event celebrating International Women’s Day at The Customs House in South Shields. They featured Dame Rosemary Cramp (Bedes World, Jarrow), Eileen O’Shaughnessy (‘Wildflower’ first film made about George Orwell’s South Shields born wife, ) and Ellen Wilkinson MP (Jarrow Crusade). When the event was being put together I found a newly released book about Ellen’s political life, the author was Paula Bartley who I contacted and asked if she would like to come up to The Customs House and talk about her book….The talk I enjoyed most was in South Shields. It was as if I had come home. People knew about Ellen, they knew why she was important, they loved her as much as I did.

In research did you find anything surprising about Ellen ? I found out that Ellen had enjoyed a relationship with a communist spy, a man called Otto Katz. He was a Soviet agent who used at least 21 aliases. If these photos below are all of the same man – two of them are of Arnold Deutsch – then he was very dangerous indeed. Arnold Deutsch, who was also known as Otto, recruited Kim Philby, Britain’s most notorious spy.  Certainly Katz – whoever he was – was a handsome man and willing to use his looks and natural magnetism to further his political cause. He even managed to charm Hollywood: Otto Katz and his wife Ilse were immortalized as Victor Lazlo and Ilse Lazlo in the film Casablanca.

M15 thought Katz the most important communist agent outside Russia and put him under surveillance. You can see a report of it below – it’s of Otto Katz staying overnight with Ellen. It says ‘he went with Miss Ellen Wilkinson to her flat at No 18, Guildford Street WC1 where he spent the night’. The two sometimes evaded the Secret Service by driving as fast as Ellen could in her car.

Otto Katz’s letters were opened. Below is a negative of a letter from Ellen to Otto that the Secret Services made. It says ‘WHAT a bombshell. Honestly, I am scared stiff. You simply must destroy the negatives or the worst, or send them to me, and any copies there are. PLEASE’. I don’t know what these photographs illustrated or the result of Ellen’s plea, but Ellen and MI5 destroyed her papers.

What I do know is that Ellen became friendly with Otto Katz in the 1930s and remained so all her life – even when she became a Cabinet Minister. He accompanied her on a number of trips to Spain during the Civil War and involved her in communist-led campaigns. Sadly, Ellen died in 1947, and never knew that in 1952 Otto Katz was put on trial for conspiring against the Czechoslovakian communist state, was tortured, found guilty and hanged.

Spy stories are always interesting, Agent Zig Zag (Durham born Eddie Chapman) is a fascinating tale of traitor, villain and hero. Ben Macintyre made a BBC documentary about him and his exploits as a double agent during the Second World War. On Tyneside was Russian born William Fisher and his son Heinrich, a KGB spy born in Newcastle, he worked for the British Socialist Party in South Shields. My great uncle Alexander Allikivi, born Russia 1888, was living in South Shields at the same time. How many more Soviets were living in the town and was Allikivi a member of the party?  (‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ by Vin Arthey is a great source for research. Interview with Vin on the blog 30th July 2019).

Paula continues…. Like a lot of young people, Ellen was excited by the 1917 Russian revolution. She joined the Communist Party and planned for socialism in Britain. The Soviet Union gave her and Harry Pollitt (later General Secretary of the British Communist Party) £500 to travel first class to Russia so that they could attend the Red Trade Union Conference in Moscow. Here she met leading revolutionaries like Leon Trotsky and Alexandra Kollontai.

Back in Britain, she helped found the Red International of Labour Unions, known as the Profintern. But there was a problem. She was also a member of the Labour Party. In 1924 communists were banned from belonging to the Labour Party and Ellen had to make a choice. In 1924 she left the Communist Party but its ideas influenced her.

What inspired you to write about Ellen ?  I was intrigued by her, her name kept coming up in lots of books about women’s history: a photo; a mention of the Jarrow March; a bit on the first women Labour MPs. I wanted to know more. I did an internet search, read a book about her by Betty Vernon and was gripped. Why was this 4ft 11’ bundle of dynamite not better known? The more I read, the more I fell in love. I became a little bit obsessed – and two years later, after a lot of research I finished an introductory book about her: Ellen Wilkinson – from Red Suffragist to Government Minister.

It was challenging researching Ellen’s life as she had destroyed all her papers and I had to rely on Hansard, newspapers, archives and people who had known and written about her. I visited lots of archives: Hull, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford and Warwick to try and find more about her.

Why did I like her so much?  I admired her energy, her passion, her warmth, her charm and her sheer doggedness to make life better for the less well-off.

Where was Ellen born and what kind of upbringing did she have ? She was born in Manchester to parents who didn’t have much money. Ellen, her parents, her two brothers and her sister all lived together in a tiny two-bedroomed terraced house with no bathroom or inside lavatory. The family struggled: her father worked in a very low paid job while her mother was too ill to work outside the home. Ellen’s future didn’t look particularly bright, yet she went to Manchester University, became a Labour MP and then first-ever female Minister of Education.

Do you think it would have been difficult being one of the first women MP’s ? In 1924 Ellen was elected Labour MP for Middlesbrough East. She walked into a space that was both masculine and upper-class. The Palace of Westminster was a grand building with its panelled walls, high ceilings, crystal chandeliers, vast halls and chambers, heraldic symbols and statues of dead white men. Intimidating for those, like Ellen, who had not grown up in a big house, been to public school or Oxbridge.

The benches in the House of Commons were made for men. Ellen was so short and the benches so high that she had to sit with her feet dangling inches from the floor. In fact, she used her brief-case to rest her feet.

On her second day in Parliament Ellen made her debut speech. She looked confident but was scared stiff. Ellen had to stand up alone in the House of Commons while over 600 MPs, mostly men, looked at her. But Ellen was a street-fighter, she had learnt how to deal with difficult crowds when she was campaigning for votes for women, had rotten fruit thrown at her and had to think of quick witty replies to hecklers. And she knew that what she had to say was more important than her fears: she told MPs that she was determined to improve the lives of women and poor people.

Since women had not been expected to be members of Parliament there were no facilities for them in the House of Commons. It was a male space. The first women MPs had to squash into one small dressing room which contained a wash stand, a tin basin, a jug of cold water and a bucket – a situation they naturally found intolerable. Ellen called it ‘The Tomb’. Even so they rarely complained, partly because they were just glad to be in the building.

These women soon found that they were not welcome in certain areas of the House namely the bars, the smoking rooms and the members’ cloakroom. Either because they feared giving offence or were intimidated, they tended to stay away from these places. Ellen broke this by striding into areas that the men thought exclusive to them.

Did you come across anything unusual when researching Ellen ? These early women MPs tended to stick together and give each other support. Ellen became friends with someone who was very different from herself: the American, Conservative and very rich Nancy Astor. The two women worked closely together to improve women’s lives, getting better pensions for women, changing the Nationality Laws (British women lost their nationality if they married a foreigner), allowing more women to join the police force, helping to gain votes for women on the same terms as men, and trying (unsuccessfully) to improve the laws on prostitution.

Where have you publicized your book and have you any projects planned ? I wanted to share my research about this remarkable woman so I spoke at lots of different places, from the Ellen Wilkinson School in Ealing, to Labour Party groups, to women’s groups and even at the House of Commons. You can see one of my talks ‘The Mighty Atom’: Ellen Wilkinson and parliamentary politics on the parliamentary you tube channel (https://youtube/2bi409l621l).

My work on Ellen Wilkinson encouraged me to find out about other Cabinet Ministers and last year my book, Labour Women in Power: Cabinet Ministers in the 20th Century was published. But no-one captured my heart more than Ellen Wilkinson.

Interview by Gary Alikivi    February 2020.

 

ALL MY ROCK STARS WERE POLITICIANS in conversation with South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck

I never had a musical awakening, all my rock stars were politicians (laughs). I was a weird kid, I was always into politics, sitting in front of the telly watching the news, my nana once said to my mam ‘There’s something not right about that bairn, you need to keep an eye on her’. Yeah I think I was destined to do this.

I met Terry Waite a few years ago, I remember watching on telly his situation as a prisoner years ago, he is Patron of a national homeless charity with a place in South Shields so he came and done a talk, I was sitting listening, fascinated, My god it’s Terry Waite (whispers). I was stuck to his side all night (laughs).

I’d watch documentaries where they had discovered new communities in far flung places of the world, always fascinated by the world around me, the planet and people – I just love people. I always had a dream from when I was young to be in politics but shelved it because I never thought it could happen to kids like me.

My Great Uncle Richard Ewart was MP for Sunderland after the Second World War, before that he was Union Organiser and local councillor in South Shields, when he left school he worked in Whitburn Pit, this was a time of working class politicians. I looked to find a similar voice so dropped in to Emma’s office on Westoe Road, South Shields…. I originally got involved in local politics, became a local councillor and thought I’d never get to be an MP, so I will work to change my little part of the world. It came from there because I don’t come from a political family at all, I’m the only one in the family that’s interested in politics. I believe in public service, that you can change things. Every single day people are in and out of this office and my amazing team here change things for them purely because I have two letters after my name. People can come in here and be rock bottom about being evicted, all kinds of mess and we can sort them out within hours or quicker, and that’s good isn’t it.

A lot of people get into modern politics because they like being on telly or they like being famous. I just want to be a really good public servant, give something back and do some good for the people that I’ve grown up with, my neighbours, friends, family, the town.

Within the last 10 years or so pop music entertainers from South Shields like David Ducasse, Joe McElderry and Little Mix have been successful, is there any reason behind this ? Firstly, representing your country at anything is a big deal, like David in Eurovision. Shields has talented people, it’s a creative place we have lots of artists and musicians. I think that is because of the environment here, you look out to the river Tyne and North Sea with their wide open spaces and you can just relax and think. That outward looking creativity and the impact of the people which makes the culture unique, that gets translated into art and music.

But I think in the past opportunities to get your stuff out there, get known or make a name for yourself have been limited and hard, but now with social media, 24/7 outlets and new avenues they are making it easier. You can put a song on twitter or you tube and there is constant exposure if you do it right. In the past singers or bands could of spent years going from club to club looking to get noticed, now with the resurgence of talent shows it gives people the opportunity to go on X Factor and the whole country could see you.

What music did you listen to when you were young ? (Emma was born in 1978) I listened to my Dad’s music mainly, my ma used to work nights in the pub so I used to sit with my dad listening to Jethro Tull, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, I’d also like some Eurythmics and Madness. I never really followed any musical trends or fashion.

Did you play a musical instrument ? Once as a kid I tried to teach myself how to play flute. I went to Woolworths in Jarrow with my pocket money and bought a little plastic flute. I’ve a lot of friends who are musical, but not me (laughs).

The Customs House in the past 20 years has been very successful with Ray Spencer at the wheel, is there still a place for it with all the changes happening in South Shields ? Ray has been great nurturing the talent like we’ve talked about earlier. Arts and culture are an escape for people and we’ll always need it from the stresses of our daily life, so there’ll always be something like it in the town. Going back to an earlier point the world is so in your face now, people get overwhelmed and there’s a rise in mental health problems. That’s because everything is at you all the time, the world just doesn’t seem as big as it used to because you’re getting stuff thrown at you all the time. You need something comforting and nice like music and arts as opposed to being exposed to the horrors of the world. Listening or watching some things can move you in ways that some things just can’t.

With the austerity and cuts, arts and culture are the first to be hit because they are not seen as an essential service. People getting care is an essential service, do you cut money from a service which has a care package that people need to live, or do you cut it from arts and culture ? That’s the problem austerity has brought, people have had to make those decisions, which can lead to the enrichment of the area suffering.

Have you had to make those decisions ? When I was on the council I did because I had a budget but not now as I’m an MP in opposition. (Emma was lead member for social care) I have a lot more clout to help people but in terms of getting funding for things I have to fight twice as hard being in opposition. Like the money for the new Metro cars, I fought for that for three years in opposition, if we were in Government and I asked it probably would have been just given – that’s the difference.

What is the difference between being an MP living in the North East compared to living closer to the capital ?  First time I set foot in parliament was the day I was MP for Shields, never set foot in it before in my life. There are other people who were in and out of there every day looking for work, and one day they become an MP. It depends how you’ve grown up, if you’ve spent your whole life working in places and networking to become an MP it’s not that big of a deal, if you’ve come from a normal job like me it is a big deal.

I imagine politics to be a hard profession, why do it ? I’ve had hard jobs before, this is hard but not harder than any other jobs I’ve done before. I’ve just grew up wanting to make a difference and politics is the way you can do that. I would look around and see my mam and dad, hard-working members of the family not being treated the same as others, they didn’t have much, just trying to get by and that massive level of inequality – it all used to make me angry. How some people are treated wrongly and have all the chances in the world but others don’t, there should be a level playing field.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi   January 2020.