Held on Saturday November 26th by North East playwright & theatre producer Ed Waugh (Dirty Dusting, Hadaway Harry, Sunday for Sammy), the event in Bewick Hall will be a celebration of fantastic stories about working class heroes from Tyneside.
“I’m really excited about this. It’ll rock. There’ll be Geordie songs, stories, and a video link – it’ll be great crack” said Ed
The Harry Clasper, David & Glenn McCrory and The Great Joe Wilson stories were successful stage plays in their own right, now the scripts have been compiled together and released into one book – Geordie Plays.
Harry Clasper’s story follows his journey from working class pitman in Jarrow to rowing Champion of the World.
North East singer and song writer Joe Wilson chronicled working class life in song including the Geordie classic Keep Yor Feet Still Geordie Hinny.
“North East actor Jamie Brown who starred in both plays Hadaway Harry and the Great Joe Wilson will be singing some Geordie songs at the event”.
“We have the top journalist and sportswriter John Gibson coming along, he will regale us with stories about Glenn McCrory’s rise to boxing world champion stardom and the inspiration he got from his severely disabled brother David”.
“We’ll also have a video link to the three plays’ director Russell Floyd” explained Ed.
Some may know of Russell from his time acting in UK theatres and TV shows including Eastenders and The Bill.
“There’s also a special 5-minute video by Canadian, Kas Wilson, talking about what it means to be Joe Wilson’s great-grand-daughter”.
“I would like to give my thanks for continued support to all audiences, supporters, organisers – everyone involved in making this happen”.
The launch is on Saturday, November 26th 6pm, Bewick Hall, Newcastle City Library.
I know doing a fanzine wasn’t exactly momentous historically, however it was our small involvement in our local scene. It might not be important to everyone, but it was very important to some.
After leaving school in 1982Will was looking to contribute to the punk scene on Tyneside…
I never possessed natural talent or had the opportunity to play an instrument, I was never gonna be a vocalist by any stretch of the imagination.
Thinking back, I don’t think my parents had the kind of disposable income to fork out on a guitar, amp or drums. Times were tough back then as anyone from that era can confirm.
But I did have an admiration for the Sunderland fanzine Acts Of Defiance which I bought from The New Record Inn next door to the infamous Old 29 pub in Sunderland where many bands played. I would read the copies enthusiastically and wondered if I could do something similar.
Will set about typing stuff out using his sister’s typewriter.
I would be creative using Letraset or permanent black marker pens with stencils. I would cut pieces out of the weekly music paper Sounds and daily newspapers to create collages or backgrounds by gluing them together. Back then ‘copy and paste’ meant using scissors and adhesive!
For a name I saw ‘Hate And War’ in a magazine, that would fit perfectly across the top of an A4 sheet of paper. I cut it out and it looked great, so that was that sorted.
Obviously we didn’t endorse hate or war – quite the opposite in fact. To us it was just a great song by The Clash, and it was completely by chance that I found that cutting and it fit perfectly.
Were you working alongside anybody to produce the fanzine?
During that period I was very close with my cousin Paul Briggs. We would arrange to meet bands or write to those further afield with postal interviews. Basically I’d send them a bunch of questions and they’d reply with their answers in a week or two.
What bands did you feature?
We featured bands like Vice Squad, Dead Kennedys, U.K. Subs, The System, External Menace, Riot Squad, The Adicts, Instant Agony, and lots more.
We also focused heavily on local North East talent such as Uproar, The Fiend, Psycho Faction, Total Chaos, Toy Dolls, Sadistic Slobs, Public Toys, Negative Earth, Red Alert and tons of others.
The next hurdles to overcome were how to get it financed and printed.
We were just kids relying on pocket money so things didn’t look good. Then I mentioned it to my grandmother who worked as a cleaner at the police station in South Shields.
I think the office staff turned a blind eye when she photocopied the odd knitting pattern but I’m grinning remembering that before anyone turned up on a morning my grandmother photocopied our fanzine in the police station offices.
She must’ve had some bottle knowing that getting caught could cost her the job she loved.
How many issues of the fanzine did you put out?
We put out two issues of Hate And War. Admittedly, they were basic and primitive but I mentioned this recently to my mate Nelly, he pointed out that ‘our whole punk scenewas basic and primitive‘ – it’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.
We set about a third issue including interviewing Total Chaos at the Bier Keller in Newcastle where I crossed paths with Gary Payne. When I said wor – Geordie slang for ‘our’ – Paul had lost interest, he suggested going into cahoots with him.
He even had the new fanzine name and first front cover assembled – Still Dying was born. If Hate And War was basic and primitive then Still Dying was a bar or two higher as we raised our game.
Where did you sell copies of the fanzine ?
We sold lots by taking them to gigs at places like The Station in Gateshead and The Bunker in Sunderland. We’d ask folk if they fancied buying a fanzine and before we knew it they were gone. We had some for sale in Volume Records in Newcastle and lots were sent out by mail-order too.
I’m guessing we got about 200 of each issue printed and they all sold. The two issues of Hate And War sold for 10p, and Still Dying was a bargain at 20p.
My grandmother helped again by getting the first issue of Still Dying photocopied. We put out three issues of Still Dying during 1983 which I’m still proud of.
The second issue was printed by a lad called Ian, who did Testament Of Reality fanzine and owned his own photocopier. The third and final issue was printed by our friend’s sister who did Edition Fanzine.
By the end of that year Gary bowed out saying he’d completed what he set out to achieve and left me to forge on. My intentions were to continue but it wasn’t the same, so I gave everything we had typed out with all the artwork for our proposed fourth issue to a lad called Marty.
It featured in his fanzine ‘Remember Who We Are’. After that, I did pursue a short-lived tape label before stepping back altogether.
Do you think the fanzine had an impact on those who bought it ?
In recent years some folk have told me that they still own the issues they bought back in 1983. They’ve kept our little fanzine for nearly four decades, so it must’ve left some impression on them. I’ve heard good comments over the years and even the suggestion that we should resurrect it.
Next up read As I See It part two with Will Binks talking about his passion for photography.
When I was younger in the ’70s the first time I heard the Queen song Brighton Rock it was an absolute humdinger with guitar ‘n’ drums blistering through a tunnel melting me ears – there was magic in the air alright. Reaching that euphoric moment when you want a song to instantly repeat is a fantastic feeling.
Music also has an incredible power to pick you up, light a fire in yer belly and head off any shit storm coming your way. And there are plenty hard times ahead courtesy of the snivelling Tory party shovelling shit hot off the shovel. When are some grown up’s gonna take over?
But how has music affected me ? Music has always been there it’s been a constant through my life. Looking back my early listening days were a great comfort and education. My first lesson was hearing my mams Country & Western records on the stereo in the sitting room.
I have two older brothers and a sister, one brother was an apprentice chippie (joiner) and our house needed extra room so his woodworking skills created a partition to make extra bedrooms where they would turn on and turn up their record players for my second lesson.
The eldest brother would be playing Dylan or Neil Young, the chippie would be Queen or Elvis Costello, and coming out of my sisters room was a collection of pop singles – I would sit on the stairs and listen to an eclectic mix of music for young ears.
Fast forward to today where I don’t download music, for my fix I visit the South Shields market and charity shops who have an ever increasing stock of cd’s. There’s a buzz to who you might find. The latest booty has included Country & Western compilations. One day when I was searching through a rack there was an old feller next to me, I said to him…
‘These aren’t in alphabetical order so hopefully I might hit lucky and find something by Tammy Wynette’, he shot back ‘Best get the ferry over to North Shields there’s plenty of Country and Western in their charity shops, they love their twang’.
Would the music of today provide an education as strong as those bands I listened to back in the day ? In 30, 40 or 50 year time would Ed Sheeran and all the others who, make radio adverts sound interesting, be remembered ?
It’s said that some things are best left broken, I can agree with that, but in times of extreme worry or stress it’s comforting to know that music is always there in the background ready to step in if needed – it’s good to know there’s still a little magic in the air.
It was late 2012 when Hive community radio station started broadcasting on-line out of Tyneside’s Jarrow Hall. Over the years they took on a number of projects including a new audio drama group who obtained Lottery funding and found a base in Jarrow’s Perth Green Community Centre – Hive Storytellers was born in September 2019.
But when the Covid 19 pandemic hit in 2020 the on line station lost all funding and community contracts, fortunately the group managed to survive the lockdowns by meeting on zoom once a week.
With the radio station closed the Hive Storytellers continued to create new projects and produce a number of audio plays for podcasts on Spotify, Apple and other feeds. With over 2,500 listeners worldwide, the plays covered local Tyneside stories using a mix of fact and fiction.
Rule 55 is a play based on a rail disaster at St Bede’s Junction, Jarrow in 1915. It was written by Lilly Moon from South Shields and Jarrow born Lorna Windham.
Lilly talked about the inspiration for the story…
“I was talking to fellow Hive Storyteller John Caffery one day when he mentioned that his Grandfather was involved in a train disaster at Jarrow. It peaked my interest so I done a bit of research then talked to Lorna about it and we agreed to do something about this hidden story”.
“The project gathered momentum and not only did we write an audio drama, we also put together an exhibition for Bede’s World in Jarrow. We also spoke to A19, the local railway club about this tragic accident who ended up making a diorama model of the train crash, we were very grateful, it was totally unexpected”.
“On the opening night of the exhibition we invited the South Tyneside Mayor and Reverend of the local church St Pauls, she done a blessing. Newspapers and TV crews came and some family members of people who died in the train crash. It was lovely as they met for the first time. We’ve worked on a number of projects now and the local history stories go down really well with the audience”.
The St Bede’s Junction Rail Disaster story will be covered in the next post.
What are you working on now?
“Lorna and I are working on a new series of stories of mystical characters, she has created the characters and we’ve recorded them. They are put on the Woodland Audio Trail at the Lady of the North, Northumberlandia in Cramlington”.
“As people go round the trail they scan a QR code onto their phones that are on the listening posts and hear the stories we’ve recorded. It’s done really well over the summer holidays and we are producing another in November. We’ve had some fantastic feedback”.
Newcastle’s Lit & Phil Celebrate Anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall
Just two mins from Central Station, Newcastle’s prestigious Lit & Phil historical library are hosting an evening of comedy fun as part of their celebrations to mark the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall upon which the library stands.
A radio sitcom pilot written by Ed Waugh (Sunday for Sammy, Christmas in the Cathedral) and Trevor Wood, which was first broadcast on BBC Cumbria in 2011, will have a script-in-hand read through in October.
Kay Easson, Lit & Phil Librarian, is responsible for bringing the laughter to the library on Westgate Road.
“Ed and Trevor have contributed to our cultural heritage with their impressive canon of professionally produced plays that include international comedy hits Dirty Dusting and Waiting for Gateaux, as well as more serious national successes Maggie’s End and The Revengers.”
Kay added “Hadrian’s Wall is an incredible part of North East history and culture so it was a no brainer staging a read-through of their excellent, irreverent but funny radio play about Hadrian cutting the tape to officially open the wall -it’s really daft!”
Jamie Brown, who recently completed a hugely successful tour as Harry Clasper in the one-man show Hadaway Harry – written by Ed – will direct the 40-minute piece that is set in AD 126 as the wall is being constructed.
“Ed and Trev have always had a distinctive voice and perspective on things and it’s wonderful they are collaborating again on this project. Their observations and humour strike a chord with audiences young and old, so I can’t wait to get It’s Grim Up North on its feet”.
“Having read the script and started to assemble an hilarious cast – audiences are in for a proper belly laugh or two”.
Tickets for It’s Grim Up North, which starts 7pm on Friday, October 28, 2022 cost £6/£8.
Yorkshire born Chris has authored eleven books, collaborated on two others, contributed to newspapers and magazines and written promotional material for local and international musicians.
Two of his books highlighted here are Boys in the Bands: Teesside’s Groups 1960-70 and Backstage Pass: Redcar Jazz Club.
“I felt those 1960s needed to be documented, the musical history needs preserving because once it’s gone, it’ll be lost forever”said Chris.
Saltburn born International rock star David Coverdale (Deep Purple/Whitesnake) added…
“Christopher Wilson has written and collated a genuinely touching and refreshing stroll down Memory Lane with this fabulous book. It opens so many joy filled memories of evenings spent in the breath taking company of the original Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Joe Cocker… many of whom I had the extraordinary pleasure of opening for when I was in local bands. A must have and a must read”.
What inspired you to research and put the books together ?
After writing five westerns, five local history books and a couple of historical fiction books, I wrote a piece about the band Cream in response to a request from an Australian website called Those Were The Days.
Also, two photographers who had covered Redcar Jazz Club were interested, one of them, Dennis Weller, read my piece on Cream and contacted me and proposed working together.
My initial interest in the Redcar Jazz club was ignited one night in 1966 when I sneaked in to watch a band I’d never heard of, they were billed as The Cream. That night changed my life.
I’d seen many acts at the Jazz Club so I set out to create a book I wanted to read, incorporating the club’s story, a full timeline of dates, what the headliners and support acts got paid, photographs, vignettes of the artists and ticket buyers – as many quotes as I could get.
For the designer I had a few ideas about layout and mocked up a few pages to help explain what sort of format we wanted. It was very primitive, I was flying by the seat of my pants. Eventually it was pasted up for the printer and became Backstage Pass : Redcar Jazz Club.
After publication, a big surprise was an unsolicited email out of the blue from Ed Bicknell who managed Dire Straits, Gerry Rafferty, Bryan Ferry and Scott Walker among others, and his email was headed FOREWORD (for the next edition). That in itself was proof he liked the book enough to have his name on it.
In Boys in the Band I look at the 1960’s where many pubs and workingmen’s clubs provided venues for bands who played most nights, a day off was a luxury. Most musicians were content in earning an extra few quid on their day job and having a laugh – others were more ambitious wanting to take it further. But they all started on Teesside honing their musical chops.
Chris drew on his experience as a drummer in the 1960s playing for local bands…
Yes I started playing drums in a band at school then switched to guitar, but after seeing Hendrix live at the Kirklevington Country Club and Cream twice I went back to playing drums and The Wheel played all over Teesside and North Yorkshire and as far south as Birmingham, we also played Annabel’s in Sunderland, the Quay Club in Newcastle and up to Ashington.
Late 60s early 70s I was in Candy Factory a professional club band who played workingmen’s clubs, including the infamous Downhill Social in Sunderland. Also the Bailey nightclub circuit including Change Is and La Dolce Vita in Newcastle, Latinos in South Shields and Wetherells in Sunderland when John Miles and Toby Twirl were on the circuit. We were offered work in South Africa and France but it didn’t feel right.
With a couple of line-up changes Candy Factory morphed into Pretty Like Me with a less friendly club repertoire and we were working from the Mayfair in Newcastle down to London, and picking up university gigs. But the mid-week gig staples were always those kids’ nights in the County Durham clubs when you could play heavy stuff. The mantra there was always, “Can you play The ‘unter or Born To be Wild?” Didn’t matter what else we played, we always played those.
Did you record any of your songs ?
We did cut a couple of demos of self-penned material. First was in a studio in a basement in Newcastle and another in Redcar, but we weren’t satisfied with them. They never seemed to capture what we thought we had. No cassettes then or CDs to bombard A&R guys with, we got a few expensive acetates which all seem to have disappeared now.
When the band later imploded I had to get a ‘proper job’ and working shifts in heavy industry, albeit mostly in laboratories, not conducive to a musical lifestyle. With not playing I needed a creative output and started writing, short stories at first, then books.
Where you surprised about the feedback for Backstage Pass and Boys in the Bands ?
I worried how many people were interested enough to buy a copy of Backstage Pass. In fact I was astonished at how well received it was. There is something to be said for timing, maybe we hit the right moment – after seven years it’s still selling.
It was launched at Kirkleatham Old Hall Museum and the photographers – Dennis Weller, Graham Lowe and I did signing sessions at bookshops. That book had been built around the photographs, which were extraordinary, but there were no images of the support bands except one, who had been personal friends of Graham. I insisted on including a few pages explaining who the support acts were and including them on the gig timeline.
After Backstage Pass was published, several local musicians hinted there had never been anything produced specifically about them, and although many of them had settled for a steady working lifestyle, their playing years, often only a handful, had been a big part of their lives – a big adventure.
I felt exactly like them. I had told stories of how it was – both the good and the bad, and the more I thought about it, more memories came back. I wanted to kick-start their memories too. Since Boys In The Bands has been released…well the comments from local musicians on my website reveal what they thought of it.
What are you working on now ?
I’m putting together a book about the Redcar Coatham Bowl which was open 1973 – 2014.Information and gig records are patchy, especially support bands, I think it’s important to include local musicians who worked just as hard as the headliners, and for a lot less.
At present I’m trying to confirm dates – and as a support bands’ name get mentioned I’m trying to contact them to confirm they played, and if they played other dates in the Bowl as yet unrecorded. This becomes especially difficult when bands are long disbanded and don’t maintain social media pages or websites.
If you have any information that will help Chris in his research or would like to buy his books contact him at his official website:http://www.chrisscottwilson.co.uk
“Don Airey was in my year at Bede Grammar school and each year there was a concert with the highlight being a band playing pop songs. I remember being impressed with Don playing the school organ on ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Little did we know he would go on to play with Deep Purple, Rainbow, Whitesnake, and Black Sabbath while also playing on over 300 albums” said Trevor.
An excerpt taken from a book produced in Sunderland by retired teacher Ray Dobson and semi-retired accountant Trevor Thorne. Ray also brought his background as a local music photographer while Trevor has written several local history books.
They hit on a method of working with one taking the lead on a subject and the other chipping in with their own knowledge of different genres from skiffle to rock to punk and bringing it up to date with Sunderland bands Field Music, The Futureheads and The Lake Poets.
The book also highlights the work of Geoff Docherty “Geoff’s forthright and honest manner endeared him to his audiences and the performers. He is today, remembered for his huge contribution to the musical culture of the North East”.
Ray added “Geoff is primarily known as the most successful rock music promoter in the North East. He was determined to bring quality live music to the area and his first venue was the Bay Hotel in Sunderland where he began by booking Family for the huge fee of £150”.
”The gig was a success and was followed the next week by an unknown band called Free – Geoff remembers people arriving under the illusion that they wouldn’t have to pay an entry fee”.
The Bay continued to attract huge stars including Pink Floyd, Tyrannosaurus Rex and The Who. In 1969 Docherty moved to a larger venue and a who’s who of legendary rock bands such as Mott the Hoople, The Kinks and Bowie followed.
“Perhaps Geoff’s greatest achievement was to bring one of the world’s top bands to town. He used his powers of persuasion to talk the rather daunting Peter Grant (manager) around to allow Led Zeppelin to perform at the venue, but on the eve of the event he was told the band would not be coming”.
“This only served to increase his determination and after numerous attempts to impress on Grant that he owed him a gig, it was eventually agreed he could have Zeppelin – twice”.
“Geoff also had a secondary career in band management. The best known of which was Beckett which included Terry Slesser – who later formed Back Street Crawler along with Paul Kossoff. Kossoff even lived with Geoff, under his care, while recovering from addiction”.
“Beckett performed on the Old Grey Whistle Test and had an acclaimed, though not commercially successful album, to their name. Unfortunately, they parted ways on the eve of an American tour and the chance of stardom faded away”.
Trevor added“One of the most intriguing bands we came across was Juice. From posters and online information, they seemed to be everywhere. The band supported Pink Floyd, Free, Blondie, Deep Purple, The Faces, Terry Reid, and Black Sabbath as well as many others. We eventually tracked down the drummer Kelly Davis, who had a fund of tales to tell”.
“It seems they were the go-to support band during the 1970s. Kelly was particularly complimentary about Ian Paice, the Deep Purple sticksman. While they were waiting for their gig to start, Paice went through the drumming routine for ‘Black Night’ with Kelly, taking up an hour and a half of his time to pass on tips on that and other songs. In 2011 Juice got together again and still record songs”.
Ray recalls a story about American born songwriter & musician Sean Delaney who is often referred to as ‘The Fifth member of rock band Kiss’and “had worked with the likes of John Lennon, Cher, Clive Davis and many others. He played a key part in designing the Kiss stage make-up, choreography and pyrotechnics”.
“Seanwas raised in Utah but moved to New York where he became involved in the music scene. An accomplished musician in his own right, Sean met producer Bill Aucoin in Max’s Kansas City, it was here the two spotted a new band and, took them under their wing. Under their guidance the band were to become one of the most famous rock bands in the world – Kiss”.
“Several successful years later, having personally produced and co-written songs for both the band and their solo recordings, Sean moved to Arizona. There he was impressed by an English/American band named Smith and Jackson. When the English contingent returned to the UK, Sean resolved to follow them and manage the band”.
“Much to everyone’s amazement, he arrived in Sunderland a few weeks later where he lived with singer Paul Jackson and his family. He became a great friend to many locals and would often stay with my wife Sue and I. Sean fell in love with the local pubs and became a popular figure on the local music scene, where his outrageous eccentricity endeared him to everyone”.
“While in town, Sean produced an excellent album for Smith and Jackson to which he contributed two of his songs. The album was released on RGF Records and was intended for the ears of Gene Simmons (Kiss)”.
“I remember on Christmas Day 2002, at about 4 am, my wife Sue woke me up to ask if I could hear singing downstairs. On closer listening, we realised that it was Sean, who was sleeping on the sofa. Next morning after he left, we found an empty chocolate box with some lyrics scribbled on it. This was probably Sean’s last attempt at song-writing.”
“Sean flew back to the US with some demos of the album but, within a day or so he had a stroke. On 13th April we received a call from Sean’s nephew to say he had passed away. Paul Jackson went home and wrote a song called ‘Ballad of Sean Delaney”.
“Sean left an indelible mark on those lucky enough to be his friends during that last period of his life spent in Sunderland. His funeral took place in Utah and written on the bottom of the gravestone are the four names of Kiss members – Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter”.
More stories and features in ‘Music in Sunderland – Past, Present & Futureheads’ is out now (£9.99 plus £2.80 UK postage) and available at Waterstones (Sunderland), Clays Nursery (Washington), Sunderland Museum, also from Trevor firstname.lastname@example.org
Memories of events years ago can sometimes be sketchy but after checking my diaries and emails it was March 2012 when I was shown a South Shields birth certificate for Eileen O’Shaughnessy by the Local History Librarian Ann Sharp.
We bumped into each other near South Shields Registry Office where I was going to collect a family research certificate. The Orwell connection peaked my interest but was more intrigued when I noticed her birth address was Park Terrace, now re-named Lawe Road – just two minutes from where I live.
I wasn’t a fan of Orwell’s writing then, I heard about him – who hasn’t? Over 20 year ago I went to see a theatre production of 1984 at Newcastle Playhouse, and have since read 1984, Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out in Paris and London plus selected essays and journalism but it was more from a local history angle that I first approached this story.
In May 2012, May being Local History month in South Tyneside, a display appeared in South Shields Library and an earlier blog from October 2018 mentions this –
‘There were three large boards. On the left was a birth certificate and census records. To the right was a photo of George Orwell and a picture of a cemetery in Newcastle. In the middle was a large black and white photograph with about a dozen men standing near sandbags and a machine gun at the front, obviously a war image. Then I noticed a dark haired woman crouching behind the machine gun. I looked closer and got goose bumps’.
Who was this woman who was born in South Shields married to one of the most controversial writers of the 20th century, buried in Newcastle and had a photo taken on the front line of a war ?
Ann mentioned that Eileen had been to the Spanish Civil War explaining the photograph, also “an American lady has been in she is researching for a book about Eileen”. That was Sylvia Topp and she left note looking for any help searching locations where Eileen lived.
We arranged to meet and I took Sylvia down to South Shields riverside and The Customs House where Eileen’s father worked as a Customs Collector, then into the town centre where he had an office then onto her childhood home in Beach Road.
Afterwards we had a meal in the Italian Restaurant on Winchester Street and left it where I would look into Eileen’s North East life. This proved difficult because there wasn’t much information out there about Eileen.
As the months passed the research grew and in the blog Oct. 2018 –
‘There wasn’t much information out there just a few bits and pieces that had been mentioned in Orwell books. So there was extensive research over the next year or so. Phone calls, letters, checking and re-checking details.
Interviews on camera were arranged around the country. One led to another, and another. It felt like being gently nudged along to find more about her. I never came across any obstacles, everybody asked wanted to be part of the documentary and were only too happy to help’.
I remember the time I was filming in Sunderland Church High School where Eileen was a pupil. I phoned reception who passed on my number to former Head of English, Sylvia Minto. Next day she rang and we arranged to meet at the school.
We filmed in the main hall where the walls were full of honours boards with names of pupils who went onto higher education. Eileen read English at St Hugh’s College, Oxford and her name was on a board. That same board is now in a room in my house.
A couple of years ago the school was closing down and the receptionist remembered me and got in touch – “of course I’ll have it” not realising the sheer weight and size of the board at 5ft x 3ft !
Someone else who was also captivated by Eileen was South Shields born Professor Robert Colls who had just published his book George Orwell – English Rebel.
Then teaching cultural history at De Montfort University, Leicester, Colls featured in an article in The Shields Gazette (25 October 2013) by local journalist Terry Kelly.
Colls said “One of the pleasures of writing about Orwell was not only getting to know him, but getting to know Eileen. The evidence is sparse but I really like her and Orwell’s spirit was lifted after meeting her. Her letters show great fun and sharp wit. Getting to know Eileen was an unexpected treat”.
In the October 2018 blog I finished off with –
‘Who knew that a library visit in 2012 would take me and my camera, from South Shields to Sunderland, Newcastle, Stockton, Warwickshire, Oxford, London and finally Barcelona. I remember I had the camera in my backpack walking through Barcelona Airport thinking how did I get here. It seemed so effortless, the whole process just fell into place’.
The Word is a recent addition to the landscape of South Shields, a new cultural centre and library that was an appropriate venue for the start of a weekend of events to celebrate the life of South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy.
Education was a big part of Eileen’s life her mother Marie had a teaching background and Eileen attended Sunderland Church High school where she was awarded a bursary to St Hugh’s College, Oxford.
It was 2012 when I first came across Eileen and March 2014 when the resultant documentary Wildflower was first shown in South Shields with Richard Blair and Quentin Kopp making the journey up the M1 to watch the film about Richard’s mother, and wife of author George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair).
In 2018 a flurry of activity surrounded the story of Eileen – plans were made to publish the book by Canadian author Sylvia Topp and a nomination for a blue plaque in the town was proposed.
With the Orwell Society (OS) driving the project forward, South Tyneside Council agreed to the proposal and to get the ball rolling I added the local link.
Dave Harland is owner of 35 Beach Road, Eileen’s childhood home. I first met Dave in 2012 when we arranged to film in his house, he knew about the O’Shaughnessy family being previous owners making him a valuable addition to the documentary.
20 years ago local journalist Janis Blower told Dave about the previous owners and the article featured in a Shields Gazette double page spread (7 August 2002). “It’s a lovely old house and there are lots of original features we have tried to keep. I believe the house dates back to the end of the 19th century” said Dave.
I popped in to see him and suggest the idea of a plaque, of course he was thrilled about the news and had no objections “a plaque is a marvellous idea, absolutely wonderful”.
With this news the OS steamed ahead with the nomination and planned an event in March 2020, which would have been the 75th anniversary of Eileen’s death. But when covid brought lockdown in the UK, the pandemic scuppered plans.
We finally got to meet up at The Word on Saturday 26 March 2022 and planted a flag for Eileen. Led by the OS Chair Quentin Kopp, Patron Richard Blair (Orwell’s son) with around 30 members of the society from all parts of the UK including Richard Young from Epsom, Stephen and Margaret Ingle from Dunblane, Richard Keeble and Mariline from Lincoln, John Lloyd and Helen Davies from ‘a small town near Hereford’ plus special guest for the day, South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck.
In the large circular top floor room a screening of the documentary Wildflower was followed by a Q&A with Quentin Kopp and author Sylvia Topp, Tom Kelly read his poem ‘You, you, you’ then Richard explained the mission of the Orwell Society and his father’s legacy.
Afterwards we walked over to The Customs House and King Street where Eileen’s father Laurence worked then went to her birthplace on Lawe Road 10 minutes away. Unfortunately the house is covered in scaffolding and hollowed out with only the front façade left.
Our MP Emma Lewell-Buck has raised this in the House of Commons and we are looking to work with South Tyneside Council to resolve this issue.
On a bright blue Sunday morning in Beach Road, Dave Harland welcomed into his front garden the OS plus Mayor Pat Hay to unveil the blue plaque.
“It was a real honour to unveil a special blue plaque in tribute to a little-known local woman who shaped and supported one of the greatest writers of the 20th century”.
“George Orwell wrote masterpieces but Eileen’s influence over him and the impact she had on his creative writing is often overlooked. There’s no doubt she was a guiding force in his life”.
Quentin Kopp added “I’m delighted that after the enforced two year delay Eileen has been given great recognition at her family home”.
Finally an emotional journey to St Andrews Cemetery, Jesmond, and the grave of Eileen Maud Blair. Kept in immaculate condition, OS member Brian Thompson from Newcastle regularly tends to the grave planting flowers and uses hand scissors to keep the grass trim, he also arranged for a small plaque to be added near the headstone.
For his work tending to his mother’s grave, Richard thanked Brian with a gift of a hardback graphic novel of 1984, I was also pleased to receive a copy of Animal Farm “for all the hard work you’ve put in recording my mothers life in South Shields” said Richard.
He finally added “My mother played a vital role in Orwell’s life, not just as a supporter, but at times, when he had bouts of illness, a carer, and also as a creative inspiration. I am thrilled that we are finally able to celebrate the life of my mother in this way.”
Docherty talks about his life from being doorman, club promoter and band manager. He remembers some of the big names that he attracted to Sunderland’s Bay Hotel
’The door leading to Marc Bolan’s dressing room was jammed with female admirers desperate to meet him. Some were crying with emotion. Others waited to meet their new heroes, Free, especially Paul Rodgers. I’d never experienced female adulation of this intensity and found it impossible to empty The Bay that night’.
Docherty fills the book with stories about bands on their way to making it, and groups already there, but next he needed a bigger venue….
’During negotiations involved in moving to The Locarno, there were important hurdles to overcome. The first was the name. Over in the States were two highly respected venues called Filmore West and East. I unashamedly plagiarised the name by renaming the Sunderland Locarno, The Fillmore North, on the night I hired it. Whether I could persuade the best groups to appear was in the lap of the Gods’.
He did – and the book contains a chronology of gigs that Geoff promoted from the Bay Hotel – Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and The Who – to the Locarno – T.Rex, Mott the Hoople, Kinks and Bowie – admission and price paid for the act are included in the details, £150 for Bowie and 10 shilling to get in.
After a visit to a local nightclub, Annabels, he spotted a band who were playing and ended up being their manager…’In the three years I managed them, Beckett did two John Peel radio shows, 33 dates supporting The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, 19 dates supporting Captain Beefheart, 22 dates supporting Slade, five supporting Wizzard, three supporting Ten Years After and countless University and College gigs. They also made an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test’.
Docherty gives great detail of the meeting with Peter Grant and the subsequent Newcastle Mayfair booking of Led Zeppelin on the 18th March 1971. Not short on anecdotes and how the music world affected his personal life, Rock at the Sharp End is a must read for any fan of North East music.