SHEARER STRIKES FOR WOR BELLA

pic. courtesy Shields Gazette

Writer and Theatre producer Ed Waugh and ex-professional footballer now TV pundit Alan Shearer, who were both brought up on the Grange Estate in Gosforth, are involved in a new stage play touring the North East.

The former Newcastle United & England striker has filmed a piece to-camera talking about Bella Reay the Blyth Spartans Ladies centre forward who scored an incredible 133 goals in 30 games while working as a munitionette to save the WW1 effort.

Alan said “The story of the munitionettes – working 60 hours a week in dangerous and physically demanding conditions – and still found time to play football for wartime charities, is both incredible and inspirational. I’m proud to be part of this excellent play.”

Bella Reay

Ed Waugh, writer of Wor Bella, said “Bella has been described as ‘the Alan Shearer of her day’, so who better to ask for his half-time analysis than the great man himself. It’s a massive coup for us”.

Ed added “Alan has been tremendous. As soon as he heard about the story he came on board and provided his time for free. We would like to thank Alan for his support, and are delighted to do post-show collections for the Alan Shearer Foundation”.

“The Foundation was set up to support the Alan Shearer Centre in Newcastle which  provides a range of specialist respite, residential and social facilities for people with complex disabilities.”

The stage play Wor Bella, starring Lauren Waine as Bella Reay, tours the North East from March 25 taking in Blyth Phoenix Theatre, Hexham Queen Hall, Newcastle Theatre Royal, Alnwick Playhouse, Whitley Bay Playhouse and ending at South Shields Westovian Theatre on Saturday April 2.

For more information visit www.worbella.co.uk for tour dates & venues.

For further details about the Alan Shearer Foundation visit:

www.alanshearerfoundation.org.uk

Alikivi  March 2022

TARTAN SPIRIT with former Tytan & Lyin’ Rampant vocalist/guitarist Stewartie Adams

Stewartie packed his guitar jumped on the overnight coach and left his hometown of Glasgow for what he hoped were better times in the capital….

In 1981 I got a call to go down to London for an audition as one of my drummer friends was the drum roadie for Dave Dufort of Tytan. The audition was at Edwin Shirley Trucking where we had a rehearsal room – out of all the guitarists I was the lucky one and got the gig with Tytan.

Heavy metal band Tytan formed in 1981 out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), the original line-up was former Angel Witch bassist Kev Riddles, drummer Dave Dufort, vocalist Kal Swan with guitarists Steve Gibbs and Stewartie Adams.

Unfortunately the gig didn’t go according to plan… It was a shame as I was so privileged to get the guitar job and loved the band and the music we were playing. I got on great with the other guys but had to leave as one of my parents was diagnosed with a terminal illness so decided to go back home.

It’s something I felt I had to do even after all the hard work we put in rehearsing, photo shoots, etc. Unfortunately I never recorded or got the chance to play any live shows and I’ve lost touch with the guys but I still keep in touch with bass player big Kev Riddles now and then.

After leaving Tytan I was in Scotland this was roughly about 1983 and I teamed up with ex-Heavy Pettin’ guitarist Eddie Trainer, an old bass player friend Cami Morlotti and a couple of other musicians and we eventually became Lyin’ Rampant.

We recorded our debut album Up and Cumin around 1985 with Independent record company Prism Records in Great Driffield, Yorkshire. We were stable mates with a band called The Mission along with a few others, after a long delay the album eventually got released in 1987.

We were delighted how the recording and the cover turned out considering it had only taken three days recording tracks in the studio. To promote the album that summer we filmed a video in Glasgow Mayfair nightclub for a Cable TV station where I was singer and played some guitar parts on the album.

As far as I know the photo on the front cover of the album was a London model who was hired by the record company. We had given them a rough idea of what we wanted and they done the rest – unfortunately she wasn’t a girlfriend of any of us and we never met her !

We had some great times recording in the studio at Prism Records and gigging in venues like The London Marquee which we played a few times, also recording at BBC studios for The Tommy Vance Rock show for BBC Radio One. But the final nail in the coffin for Lyin’ Rampant was in 1991 after our record company went into liquidation.

What are you doing now ? I’m not having a great deal of luck. Unfortunately I’m back in the same situation as I was with Tytan, only this time caring for my 95 year old father who has Dementia. I have no other family and don’t want to see him going into a care home, so once again my musical career has been put on hold.

Funnily enough I’ve been in touch with a record company in Phoenix USA who may be interested in re-releasing the Lyin’ Rampart album again, that would be great if it happens. I’ll just have to wait and see and just hope that I have better luck this time around. When I get the chance I still write and record new songs but it’s hard in the present situation I’m in.

Original line up of Lyin’ Rampant

Looking back it was great during the NWOBHM times in London, we used to hang out in places like The Marquee club and pubs like The Ship Inn and The Intrepid Fox in Wardour Street in Soho, it was full of rock fans and musicians it had a great atmosphere. We managed to see bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motörhead, Girlschool – yeh good times.
There were some great bands to come out of the NWOBHM movement which have stood the test of time. One of them are Tytan who have reformed and are back on the road again with a new line up just like a few other bands from back then that are doing well.

For more info check the official website:  www.stewartieadams.co.uk

Interview by Alikivi  March 2022

JUST AN ILLUSION

For the next couple of days South Shields town centre is hosting Joe and Gavin two street artists from London, Joe took five minutes out to explain their latest project.

We’re painting a large picture on the ground which is filled up with sea water, lots of sea life and a mini lifeboat, it’s a 3D illusion and the French call it trompe l’oeil meaning a trick of the eye. Hopefully when it’s finished people will look at it and see a big hole in the pavement and interact with it and get their pictures taken.

If it rains we should be alright as it’s acrylic paint which is pretty durable and we’re going to put a bit of a matt varnish on it at the end so that will keep it looking good for a while.

We’ve done a few of these since 2005, not in this area but we done two pictures in Newcastle in summer last year. This is part of the Cultural Spring which is to get people interested in art because if you wouldn’t normally go in a gallery you can see it in the street – and we can hopefully get people excited about it and help lift the spirits after the bad times we’ve gone through over the last few years.

For more info check the official website:

3djoeandmax.com

Interview Alikivi  2022

WHAT DID THE ROMANS DO FOR US ? in conversation with Alexandra Croom, Keeper of Archaeology at Arbeia South Shields Roman Fort

Alexander Croom at Arbeia Roman Fort, South Shields (pic. Alikivi 2022)

By the end of the first century AD, the Roman army was firmly established in the North East. Hadrian had built an 80 mile long wall by AD128, some years later a fort was built on barren land in what became Newcastle and on the coastline overlooking the river Tyne a fort was built in South Shields.

Living a stone’s throw away I’ve been interested in the Roman fort so I popped over to the museum met Alex Croom and asked ‘What did the Romans do for us ?’

When expanding the Roman empire across the world Emperor Septimius Severus arrived in the UK from Rome and started his Scotland campaign so the South Shields fort was converted into a supply base. He brought over his two sons Caracalla and Geta, we aren’t sure of the reason but it might have been to drag them away from the flesh pots of Rome and learn to be warriors rather than playboys.

After multiple successful military campaigns was Emperor Septimius Severus the first rock star of Rome ? I’m not sure of that (laughs). Sadly in the middle of fighting Septimius died of sickness in York in 211AD. We think his sons left South Shields quickly after his death to get back to Rome as we have an altar which is inscribed To the gods the Preservers the unit at Lugudunum paid its vow for their safe return.

What attracted you to archaeology ? I love archaeology and finding out how people lived many years ago, the Greeks and Romans have a lot in common but it’s the Romans I’m more fascinated with.

I’m originally from Berkshire and have worked at South Shields Roman Fort for over 30 odd years now. When I finished studying at Newcastle University I came here and started work as a trainee in 1986.

It was an exciting time as a lot was going on with the reconstruction of the West Gate. South Shields is also unique in the Roman Empire as the only supply base that’s been excavated.

Why is there a fort in South Shields ? Forty years after Hadrian’s Wall was built a stone fort at South Shields was positioned on the Lawe Top. They would look out to check who’s coming into the North Sea and river Tyne thus making it difficult to get past. Directly across river is North Shields, there is no evidence of a fort there but you never know.

Roman Fort with surrounding houses and school (bottom of pic) being demolished in 1966 at the Lawe Top next to the river Tyne.

Today the Roman Fort is surrounded by a modern school and housing are there plans to reveal more of the remains ? There is only one row of houses left that are built on remains, they are near the East Gate, but there is plenty of unexcavated areas inside the fort that we can work on. Of course outside the fort there are all the other houses built over the civilian settlement, temple, baths, cemetery and training ground.

After the Romans left, the area was open fields until 1875, the Victorians knew there were Roman remains here as pottery, tile and coins were found during ploughing, and there were various bits thrown under hedgerows.

They wanted to dig the fort up because they thought it was going to be lost for ever when housing was built over it. After the dig mounds of soil was placed on top so it preserved the remains, a Roman Remains Park was set up in the 1880’s.

From the 1900’s the Lawe Top was built up by the Victorians, rows of housing, churches and a school were built in the area, after a number of years some houses were demolished in 1966.

As houses were being demolished the remains of the North gate were exposed with a lot of stones surviving, by 1977 the Victorian school was ready to be demolished and the south east corner of the fort excavated.

You never know how much there is until you dig down to the Roman layers, they would have been surprised to see how much was there.

Victorian school ready to be demolished in 1977 with the Roman fort south west corner being excavated.

The curve on the corners of the fort are original, Roman forts always had curved corners although the buildings inside had 90 degree corners. They may have been built that way for the watchtowers which were two to three stories high and rather similar in size to the reconstructed West Gate, also they were wide enough for soldiers to walk the wall.

I remember in 2005 TV’s Time Team (Tower Blocks & Togas, series 12 episode 12) came in to film a dig and we were in the area of the Lawe Top where the Roman cemetery was. We knew this because we had dug there before and the Victorians had found graves but Time Team only found one bit of human bone. It was so frustrating because we were in the area where the Regina tombstone was found.

What building would you like to find ? I’d like to find the bath house. All forts have a settlement outside with a temple, cemetery, houses and bath house but unfortunately we don’t know where it is.

What object would you like to find ? Any find is a great find on a dig but I would like to find an inscription of the name of the fort. We’ve got an altar here with what we think is the first name but it’s very worn so we would like something to confirm Lugudunum as the original name.

In the third or fourth century the fort was attacked and parts of it were burnt down, it was rebuilt and its new name which remains to this day, Arbeia, means ‘the place of the Arabs’ after the arrival of a unit of Tigris Bargemen.

Reconstructed barracks on the south west corner of Arbeia Roman fort. (pic Alikivi 2022)

What would you like for the future of the Roman Fort ? What we’d really like is a new museum, our existing museum on the Lawe Top was built in the 1950’s and is limited in exhibition space. We’ve had a lot of excavations over the years and there is a lot of objects that we would love to display.

Arbeia, Roman Fort is open from 28 March – 2 October 2022.

Tel: 0191 277 1409 or check the official website

Arbeia South Shields Roman Fort (arbeiaromanfort.org.uk)

Interview by Alikivi  March 2022

WOR BELLA: INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

The Word, South Shields (pic. Alikivi collection)

On Sunday March 6, The Word in South Shields is holding an event for International Women’s Day to celebrate women’s achievements.

Kicking off at 1pm the celebration will incorporate excerpts from Ed Waugh’s new play, Wor Bella, plus trailer films and talks by representatives of women’s groups in the region.

“Men were conscripted so women flocked into the workplaces to save the World War One effort. The heroic munitionettes worked a 60-hour week in dangerous conditions.”

Ed added “In 1917 football matches started to be organized for a bit of fun and to give people entertainment. Matches were played on Tyneside at Westoe while Palmers of Jarrow had a crack women’s football team based on the shipyards there.”

By the end of the war there were over 1 million working women, of these, 700,000 were employed in the munitions industry and 80 per cent of all weapons were produced by these working class women.

Things quickly became serious as women trained and dedicated their spare time to developing all-female teams that could compete against each other. Hundreds of teams formed spontaneously throughout the country –  often 2,000-3,000 people paid their 6d (£1.50 today) to be entertained.

In the North East teams were formed in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, Darlington, Hartlepool and County Durham, Sunderland, South Tyneside, Newcastle and Gateshead 

Blyth Spartans Ladies in Northumberland became local and regional heroes, playing in front of an average 4,000. The Blyth women worked at Blyth docks in South East Northumberland unloading spent shells from France, and the biggest star was Bella Reay, their magnificent centre forward who notched 133 goals in 30 unbeaten games.

Wor Bella, who was ‘the Alan Shearer of her day’ and Blyth Spartans Ladies went on to win the 1918 Munitionettes Cup against Bolckow Vaughan of Middlesbrough in front of 22,000 people at Ayresome Park, then home ground of Middlesbrough FC.

Bella Reay played by Lauren Waine (pic. courtesy Shields Gazette)

The play Wor Bella is about women’s football as seen through the eyes of Bella Reay (played by Lauren Waine). The International Women’s Day Celebration takes place on Sunday March 6, at the Market Place venue in South Shields town centre from 1pm to 3pm.

For booking details visit:

https://theworduk.org/whats-on/international-womens-day-celebration/

Wor Bella, which is supported by Arts Council England, tours the North East in March /April. www.worbella.co.uk

ALIKIVI   February 2022

THE ENGINE ROOM with Huw Holding new Tygers of Pan Tang bassist

The ep ‘A New Heartbeat’ is released this week is it a follow on in style from the last album ?
The songs are classic Tygers and obviously new guitarist Franco has added a different dimension, but the Tygers are not looking to do a Jazz fusion reggae album – its Metal!

New Tygers line-up left to right Huw Holding (bass) Jaco Meille (vocals) Robb Weir (guitar) Craig Ellis (drums) Francesco Marras (guitar)

Did you listen to the Tygers when you were young and have you a favourite album ?

I loved the first three, production on ‘The Cage’ (1982) was a bit to “modern” for me with synth drums etc – but the songs were great. The last four albums have been incredible and that’s the reason I wanted to be part of the Tygers.

Unlike other bands of that era they aren’t living in the past, the newer albums are as good as, or arguably even better than their 80’s stuff.

I lived in Durham since I was 3 or 4 and the Tygers have a strong connection with Durham, their first gig was at the Coach and 8 in Durham. I saw them at Dunelm House when I was maybe 11, my sister was a big Tygers fan so that was passed onto me. I can also remember watching them on music TV shows E.C.T and the Whistle Test.

The street where I lived was full of teenage rock fans and at weekends used to have camp fires on the field next to me and play rock metal stuff – mainly Motorhead, Hawkwind and Sabbath.

We also had Guardian Studio’s in Pity Me village where me and my fledgling musician mates used to get music lessons at the time when the Tygers were doing the Spellbound demos at the studio, although I never met them.

I still see Terry Gavaghan (former owner/producer) and chat to him about his recollections of the Tygers, Terry loved working with the Tygers and got on well with Robb.

Huw learnt his trade playing in the North East with a number of bands before joining metal outfits Avenger and Blitzkreig.

I was asked to join Avenger in 2006 then a few year ago Brian Ross (vocals) got in touch and asked if I was interested in playing on a Blitzkrieg album as bassist Bill Baxter had left and they were about to sign a record contract. I agreed because at the time Avenger were not busy and it was my perception that Gary Young (drums) was doing a lot of work with his Death Metal project Repulsive Visions.

But Gary decided that my agreement with Blitzkrieg would limit Avenger’s opportunities so I was replaced. I have to say this was a business decision and there was no personal fall out, I’m still friends with all the Avenger boys.

In retrospect I’ve mixed feelings about my decision to join Blitzkrieg, but equally if I hadn’t joined I wouldn’t be with the Tygers now, and I wouldn’t have become good friends with Ken Johnson (guitar, Abaddon) he was ex-Blitzkrieg and principle song writer for the last 20 years, also Matthew Graham who is a great drummer and a fabulous chap, despite looking like a cheap tart.

After bassist Gav Grey left the Tygers last year to pursue other musical interests – then got the gig with NWOBHM band Tank – Huw stepped up to the plate.

I joined the band in August 2021, but on quite a few occasions before that I met the Tygers when I performed on the same bill at festivals when I was with Avenger or Blitzkrieg.

After submitting a demo I was invited for an audition on 31st July. I can remember the date because it was the day after my birthday, so instead of having a night out I stayed in to make sure I knew the tracks well.


For the demo I had to play along to Damn You from the last album ‘Ritual’ and Slave to Freedom from ‘Wildcat’ their debut. At the audition we done a few songs, the two tracks from the demo plus Love Don’t Stay from ‘Crazy Nights’ and Take It from ‘Spellbound’, we also played Gangland which I already knew from my younger years.

How’s it going recording the new album ?
The new album is going great. It’s been quite hard work because I had to learn the full 20 song set list while also working out bass lines for the songs. The new songs had already been written before I joined so my contribution has only been to add to them. The band have been happy to include my favourites into the set list which was great.

The EP released this week ‘A New Heartbeat’.

As for the recording process I had to adapt to modern technology cos of Covid restrictions and play along to the demos using my home recording gear then email to the band members who say what they like or don’t like.

Once I got through quality control I then recorded the bass directly over the drums with a guide guitar from Franco. This is then sent to the studio who can ‘Re Amp’ my bass and Robb does his stuff.

Have you any live dates scheduled this year ?
We had to reschedule dates that we had to cancel in late 2021 and early 2022, at the same time we need to keep time available for recording – yes we have a busy time ahead.

New EP ‘ A New Heartbeat’ is out now and to find out latest news and tour dates go to official website https://www.tygersofpantang.com/

Interview by Alikivi  February 2022

WOR BELLA: CALLING ALL EX-MINERS

Bella Reay

Bella Reay was ‘the Alan Shearer of her day’ scoring 133 goals in 30 matches between 1918/19, she also led Blyth Spartans Ladies football team to victory in the 1918 Munitionette’s Cup final in front of 22,000 people.

This is a remarkable story about brave, heroic women who worked 60 hours a week in dangerous occupations during World War One yet still found time to play football to raise money for injured soldiers, widows and orphans.

Brought to you by the team behind the hugely successful Hadaway Harry, Carrying David and The Great Joe Wilson, the play written by Ed Waugh, directed by Russell Floyd and starring Lauren Waine as Bella Reay, is an incredible story largely forgotten until now.

Ed talked about a special offer for ex-miners to come along to the show ‘Thanks to support from the North East Area Miners’ Social Welfare Trust Fund, ex-miners, their spouses and partners are invited to attend the incredible story of Wor Bella, the Blyth miner’s daughter who rose to fame as the superstar of World War One’s women’s football’. 

They’ll be asked to pay only £5 for a programme to reserve their seat. To take advantage of this fantastic offer they have until 5pm on Friday March 18 when it closes. Either contact me on 0191 4550608  – please speak slowly and repeat your number twice – or email at ed.waugh@blueyonder.co.uk’.

Ed added ‘We’re looking forward to seeing you and for a list of North East venues visit the Wor Bella website’.

www.worbella.co.uk

Alikivi  February 2022

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Former South Shields Councillor, Alderman & Mayor, James Dunlop 1865-1938

The blog has featured highlights from the life of Tyneside born international musician Chas Chandler, little known South Shields born musicians Kathy Stobbart and Jack Brymer, a brave war story from North Shields hero Tommy Brown, also a profile of my Great Uncle, Richard Ewart MP, a committed socialist from the south of the Tyne. His story ‘From Coal Mine to the House of Commons’ is on the link below.

The latest story researched and put together from a number of print sources features the colourful life of South Shields Mayor James Dunlop, it also includes crossing points in my family research.

James Dunlop with his wife Marie pic. courtesy South Tyneside Council.

Glasgow born Dunlop spent a short time in Canada then returned to England where he worked in Barrow in Furness and Middlesbrough before moving to South Shields at the end of the nineteenth century finding employment in Tyneside shipyards.

Soon he was an active member of the Independent Labour Party but found their brand of politics a little tame so joined the Social Democratic Federation where he became a leading figure in the South Shields party. Dunlop was quickly gaining a reputation as a fiery character who fought for what he thought was right for the working class people of the town.

Being successful at fighting local elections the Labour party took note and called him in, James agreed to become Tyne Dock ward councillor in 1906. He retained strong links with the Social Democratic Federation party who were supported by the Russian Socialist Democratic Workers Party.

Through political and social gatherings Dunlop is likely to have met two Russian comrades – Tyneside shipyard worker Heinrich Fischer and my Great Uncle Alexander Alikivi who made the journey from Russia to the North East as a Merchant Seaman and settled in South Shields.

Family research is yet to point to a definite political affiliation for Alikivi but it was highly likely he was a member of the Russian Socialists, a party with someone speaking his mother tongue would be welcoming to someone so far from home.

Fischer was a confirmed member of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party, useful reading about his life is an interview with author Vin Arthey who wrote an excellent book, The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy (link below).

Russia was in turmoil as a workers revolution raged across the country, to help the struggle in overthrowing the ruling Tsar regime and form a socialist government, arms were smuggled from the river Tyne to St Petersburg using established Baltic trade routes.

Along the riverside the boat building yards of Tyne Dock and Holborn would be suitable access points for smuggling. Was suspicious activity seen and reported ?

Upshot was a major police operation was launched on Tyneside leading to a number of arrests being made and Dunlop held on suspicion of gun running – this won’t look good for a recently elected councillor of Tyne Dock.

A search of his home revealed a box in the cellar which the police suspected had previously held guns and bullets. An Edinburgh address was on the box which led them to the ringleaders of the organisation. How much involvement Dunlop had isn’t known, but fortunately for him he escaped any charges.

During the next decade Dunlop’s political career took off – employed as a boilermaker at Readheads shipyard his rallying calls for socialism won a strong following, he was promoted to Chairman of the Housing and Town Planning committee and made Alderman of the town. James became a senior member of the Labour council with one of his proudest moments in 1928 becoming South Shields Mayor.

pic. November 3rd 1920 Alderman Dunlop laid a stone at the entrance of Cleadon Park Housing Estate, South Shields.

Sadly after a 32 year membership and service to the Council, James passed away aged 73. A full council meeting was held to remember a valued colleague, Mayor Harris, councillor Gompertz, and my relative and brother in law of Alexander Alikivi, Councillor Richard Ewart, were some who attended.

Local newspaper The Shields Gazette featured the story –

“One could not but admire his courage, persistency and unshakeable belief in what he thought was right. I am sure the working class people of this town will remember with gratitude his fight for better housing conditions” said the Mayor.

Councillor Gompertz added “Alderman Dunlop’s work had a standing monument in the Cleadon Park Estate. People who had travelled the country looked upon Cleadon Park as the finest homes for working people in the whole country”.

“A pronounced Socialist, he laid the foundations of the party and we thank him for the enormous amount of spade work he did. In this Council chamber we miss his voice, which at times was raised against injustice and always in the cause of freedom”.

South Shields Corporation minutes of proceedings July – Dec 1938.

‘We Do Not Want the Earth’ – The History of South Shields Labour Party by David Clark.

‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ by Vin Arthey.

The Shields Gazette.

RUSSIA’S GEORDIE SPY with author Vin Arthey | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

THE LAMPLIGHTER’S SON – Richard Ewart M.P. 1904-53. The long hard road from North East coal mines to the House of Commons. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Gary Alikivi   February 2022.

JARROW LAD in conversation with pub manager & entertainer Jess McConnell

Jarrow is affectionately known as ‘Little Ireland’, it’s also the title of a documentary about the Irish immigration into Jarrow which had its premier at The Customs House, South Shields on St Patricks Day 2009.

The film is planned to be screened on one of the local history themed nights at The Albion Gin & Ale House in Jarrow. In a recent interview manager Jess McConnell told me he is looking forward to screening the film because of his connection to Ireland and also his life in entertainment and pubs.

Jess was born in 1952 and brought up on Jarrow’s Scotch Estate. His mother named him Gerard but at school there were three Gerard’s, so somebody gave him the name Jess which has stuck to this day.

Jess at the pumps of The Gin & Ale House, Jarrow. pic. courtesy The Shields Gazette.

My family came from Mahon, County Cork, Paddy my Grandfather came over for work in the shipyards in the early 1900’s. I remember when I was 5 or 6 my mother used to take me to my Irish granny’s house where she had hens and chickens in the backyard.

My Dad was a bricklayer who travelled on the train from Jarrow to work in Newcastle, he was also a drunk so he was still worse for wear and missed his stop regularly – the end was North Allerton which is miles away. Some nights me and my mother would be woken up by a taxi driver wanting a week’s wages.

But one day my Dad was coming home from work and again fell asleep on the train. He was nudged by the guard “Wake up Charlie you’ve missed your stop, you’re at East Boldon”. Luckily he was only one stop away from Jarrow so he thought he would walk back along the lines. He did – and walked straight into an oncoming train. We were devastated.

After leaving St Joseph’s school in Hebburn I served my time as a plater in the shipyards and when I was old enough I started drinking in the local pubs in Jarrow. There was no jukebox’s then so we would sing-a-long with piano players tinkering in the corner. That’s how we began entertaining, getting up and ad-libbing.

By 1970 I joined the Mel Unsworth Agency in Jarrow and started as a solo singer and played with a number of groups on the clubland circuit. There was so much work then, the clubs were packed – it was booming.

Terry Joyce & Jess McConnell as The Jarrow Lads.

I was still a plater during the day working down Teeside during the ‘70s oil and chemical boom, that’s where I met Hebburn born welder Terry Joyce. Terry was also a performer and we got along great so decided to join forces and went out as the Jarrow Lads from 1979-84.

As a double act we sang and performed comedy in North East clubs, to keep the act fresh we loaded the van with our P.A. and done ten day runs in Scotland and Yorkshire. We enjoyed it and got very popular on the circuit but being away a lot the missus wasn’t happy.

We were regularly playing ten shows a week and in 1980 won a North East Comedy Act of the Year at Newcastle Mayfair – yes you could say we took North East clubland by storm (laughs).

Jess & Terry on stage.

One day in 1983 I saw The Queens Hotel opposite Jarrow Steelworks up for sale so I said to Terry why don’t we buy this pub it’s going for a snip – or so I thought. The trade wasn’t too hot, it had run down a bit but there was thirteen bedrooms upstairs.

The idea was to run the pub and hotel and be able to hand pick our stage work, no more trips to Birmingham or Yorkshire but Terry didn’t fancy that and we called it a day for our duo – I jumped head first into the pub game, he went on to a successful solo career. There was no falling out, we parted as friends.

We renamed the pub The Jarrow Lad and it started going well, upstairs we had rooms for travelling entertainers just like me and Terry used to do. We got in touch with the agency’s and told them about our set up here for accommodation.

On tour you would sometimes have a free night so the performers would stay here and put a show on and get free bed and board – Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown played on two consecutive nights, one for the ladies and one for the gents.

Jarrow Elvis in 1992 pic. courtesy Newcastle Chronicle.

We put on a ‘free and easy’ night with a keyboard player, drummer and anyone that could get up and sing. This one night a guy called Joseph Allan came in off the street, had a few pints, got up, sung a few songs, and I gave him the name Jarra’ Elvis – for the next few year he ended up being a huge attraction.

Another opportunity came along to take up a Vaux tenancy of the Robin Hood pub in Jarrow. We ended up running both pubs simultaneously putting on entertainment six nights a week.

In 1987 I noticed Hebburn Trades and Labour Club was boarded up so we stepped in and renamed it The Victoria Park. National acts appeared on the bill like Bernard Manning, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds – we were upgrading the entertainment, plus we had a regular four piece band.

A few year later we sold The Victoria Park for a tidy sum and bought The High Pit Social Club in Cramlington. It already had a reputation for booking big acts for their 450 seater concert room with lamps on the tables – like a large cabaret room.

We booked American singer Jack Jones, Tony Christie, Ken Dodd, Norman Wisdom, The Drifters – packing it out every time. The club was doing well and looking forward to more national acts coming through and more opportunities.

We had acquired another two social clubs – The Percy Main, North Shields and Battle Hill, Wallsend. We were giving them a bit of life by revitalising them – but unfortunately through all this my marriage suffered and we split.

Real Ale ‘Rivet Catcher’ named after a shipyard trade.

A few year later I remarried and my second wife and I shared a love for real ale. After a brewing course we bought the derelict Robin Hood pub from Vaux and reopened it in 2002 with a micro-brewery inside.

We could brew ten barrels of beer that’s 360 gallon at a time and one of our main beers called Rivet Catcher (a shipyard trade) became a champion beer of the North East and runner up in the Great British beer championship.

The pub was voted the CAMRA pub of the year a number of times, we had beers with local names like Joblings Gibbet, Red Ellen (Wilkinson Jarrow MP) and Jarrow Bitter.

We needed outlets for our beer so over the next few year we acquired, refurbished and put our beers on the counters of The Robin Hood, Magnesia Bank in North Shields, The Maltings in South Shields, The Isis in Sunderland and finally The Old Albion Hotel in Jarrow. Now we had a 40 barrel plant, everybody was after out beer even Newcastle United wanted Rivet Catcher on their shelves.

We expanded our brewing capabilities by getting a space on the Bede Industrial Estate and the Jarrow brewing plant became the biggest in the North East. That might sound outrageous but this was a time when Newcastle brewery had moved to Yorkshire, Federation in Gateshead and Vaux in Sunderland had both closed down.

Now we needed a bottling plant which would cost upwards of half a million pound, for the first time we needed outside investment. A financial consultant read our story in the Journal in 2015, got in touch and set up a few meetings to discuss it and plans were made.

Within a week I’m down in London meeting potential investors and listening to all the patter but I was gullible and soon put a deposit on a bottling plant, the contract tied in the pubs and our house.

A few times I was told the money is coming but the money didn’t come, the upshot was we lost everything, our house the lot – we were bankrupt. The financial consultant and his cronies picked up our assets from the receivers.

I’ve thought this through and I’m not saying they came into this to get me hook, line and sinker – was that the plan all along ? I think somewhere along the line they recognised I was desperate for the money and without it they thought they could pick up a few assets. It was a hard time. 

So what do I do ? Well it’s time to pick myself back up again, go back to the beginning put a stage act together and perform in pubs, clubs, old folks homes anywhere that will give me a spot – I wanted, needed to have a bit of fun again.

I done that for about five year then one night in Hartlepool I was struggling up some icy stairs with huge speakers to entertain about 40 people in a 300 seater club. How much longer can I do this ?

Gin & Ale House, Jarrow pic. courtesy The Shields Gazette

Then I got the opportunity to take on the Albion in Jarrow – yes another pub again. I signed up for a three year tenancy agreement but unfortunately I couldn’t have taken over at a worse time because the covid virus had just started to spread. We had the pub going for a couple of weeks then it all crashed in – lockdown.

It’s only a small pub indoors so we’ve had a few months of nothing happening but we’re finally getting there, with relaxed rules about using outside space we got busy in the summer. We had so much free time on our hands that we made a few short videos, they are humorous but with a serious message one for the NHS and their magnificent work. Another tackles the problem of only four pubs left in Jarrow as one time there was fifty four.

Don’t get me wrong it’s not easy in the pub trade because they are open then they are shut and people are not coming out because they are petrified of covid. Who knows what’s round the corner – another virus next winter ?

But at the end of the day and at my age I thoroughly enjoy running just the one pub and we were lucky to get a really nice rented house in Boldon near the river Don.

The Albion Gin & Ale House, 76 Walter Street, Jarrow. 0191 489 7222

Interview by Gary Alikivi   February 2022

FRAMING HISTORY #2 Photos Capture a Decade of Changes

In an earlier blog – Framing History, 11 January 2022 – I posted about being invited to add my photographic collection to the South Tyneside History website managed by the library. The site celebrates the heritage of the borough by preserving photographic and printed history.

For over 25 year I’ve taken photographs around South Tyneside and this first collection that is being added to the site holds over 2,000 images from 2008 onwards – a unique documentary record of a decade of changes in South Shields.

Photographs were taken all year round to capture demolition of buildings and new construction work at different stages. There was also a lot of early morning and evening visits to locations avoiding people and cars.

‘Constance Ellen’ shipwreck, Herd Sands, South Shields.

Finding the right angle or getting close to the subject meant climbing a fence or plodging in the sea to get close to the Constance Ellen shipwreck who ran aground on Herd Sands near the South pier over 100 year ago.

On a cold wintry morning you need to get out of your nice warm bed like the time I turned up at the seafront on a bitter December day. Over the past year I’d taken hundreds of images showing a new seawall and promenade being constructed on South Shields seafront.

‘Littlehaven Eye’ being lifted into place with a sunken trawler in the background.

There was a large crane taking the ‘Littlehaven Eye’ off the back of a lorry and putting it in place. Also adding to the landscape, framed by the North and South piers, was a sunken trawler in the sea, plus ten minutes later a large car carrying ship entered the river Tyne.

If I didn’t turn up that morning I would have missed an important part of the development.

Thanks to Catrin Galt, Community Librarian based at The Word, South Shields, and her team of volunteers who work on the project to keep history alive.

Check out the website:

https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/