EVERYBODY’S LIFE WAS TOUCHED BY COAL with artist Bob Olley

 

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Between 2009 and 2016 I made over 20 films. ‘Vanished’ was a documentary about the lost industry of coal, shipyards and railways made in 2012. Also featured was the lost village of Marsden, once situated on the cliff top near Souter Lighthouse and Whitburn pit. (pic above courtesy of Marsden Banner Group). This extract is taken from an interview featured in the film with former miner now Artist, Bob Olley….

Well I worked at Whitburn Colliery from 1957 till the colliery closed in ’68. Whitburn was a wet pit mostly and I was working in the east yard seam 3 miles out under the North Sea. It took us three quarters of an hour to get in and three quarters of an hour to get out. I think it’s because it’s such an adverse industry, danger, and whatever else, a sense of humour developed.

When the colliery closed it was the push I needed to get out. When I first went into the artistic side of my life the stuff I did was very dour, mostly pen and ink work. Then I moved away from coal mining for about 15 years then suddenly I got this urge to go back to the subject and this was the type of thing I was doing (points to picture next to him).

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Up to about 15 years ago I would say most people in the North East their lives was influenced by the coal industry. The amount of people that were involved with the transportation of coal, the winning of the coal, the processing of the coal, everybody’s life was touched by coal.

Gary Alikivi   January 2020.

SECRETS and LIES – based on the life of Baron Avro Manhattan

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Sometimes it feels like they find you, but I came across Avro Manhattan by accident. I was in the local studies department of South Shields Library flicking through the files looking for South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy, I was making a documentary about her life with the author George Orwell. The files are in alphabetical order and before the O’s landed on the M’s.

From research I wrote a script for the film Secrets & Lies (below). A blog from July 2018 add’s details on how I put the film together.

If you want to check out the 12 min film go to my You Tube channel at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AITGzGiC-yU

 

START

Secrets & Lies

Have you heard about the devil having the best tunes ? Well, he also has the best stories. This is a story about my journey, my obsession… my destiny. You could say it was written in the stars.

It was 1990 when I died at our home in South Shields, my friends had a service for me at the local church, and they buried me in a cemetery in Durham. In my will I left over half a million pounds, with bank accounts in London, Switzerland and California. I also had a few titles to my name, including a Baron and Knights Templar. I was an accomplished writer and artist; I have authored over 30 books. My first was published in 1934. My close friends included other artists, poets and a Princess. I had property in London and Spain and a plot of land in the Bahamas.

So I hear you ask, why end my days in a small terraced house in a seaside town? Let me explain.

My name is Avro Manhattan I was born in Italy on 6th April 1910. My parents were wealthy and we travelled around Europe. I was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, where as a student I met the artist, Picasso. This was a great time in my formative years, I used to get, what I called little explosions in my head, idea’s, sounds and colours just popping in, and I knew I had to do something with them.

So in the 1930’s when I went back to Italy and rented an art studio at Lake Maggiore I started to put my idea’s down on canvas. But while there the authorities told me that I had to serve in Mussolini’s fascist army, I refused, so they put me in jail. While imprisoned in the Alps I didn’t waste my time, in my small prison cell I learned to harness my little explosions and wrote a book on astronomy, a subject I was getting really interested in.

They say prison can break some people, but not me, after the experience it made me more determined to make something of my life. I left Italy behind and went to London.

During World War II, I worked in radio and was broadcasting to occupied Europe and also wrote political commentaries for the BBC, for this service two things happened, the British awarded me a Knight of Malta, and the Nazi’s put a price on my head. A feeling that would follow me all through my life, the feeling of dodging a bullet.

While in the UK I was living between London and the North East, where I was invited to important functions, foreign embassies, and film premiers. I worked with HG Wells and helped draw up a bill of human rights. I met with Ian Paisley, the loyalist politician from Northern Ireland.

I held an art exhibition on the riverside in South Shields attended by the very flamboyant son of the Marquis of Bath. The Viscount bought two of my paintings but he confessed his only ambition was to try Newcastle Brown Ale. I met Dr Thomas Paine, the head of NASA. As I’ve said it was a subject I was really interested in and became a passion of mine, I was very interested in space and what else was out there in our universe.

I was a very good friend with the scientist Marie Stopes. She had just read my latest book, and came to an exhibition of some of my paintings in London. We got on well and our friendship grew, there were strong rumours of a love affair.  At the time I was thirty nine, she was 72.

But my little explosions kept me really busy and by now my main work was writing. I talk of the obscenity of some very wealthy world organisations co-existing with poverty. My titles deal with topical issues and are controversial; they deal with current religious and political problems affecting the USA and the Western world. I researched the subjects thoroughly and my style is not to be judge or jury; but to be the prosecuting counsel. In the ‘Vatican Moscow Washington Alliance’ I talked with the Yugoslav General, Milkovich, himself an opponent of Nazism and Communism.

During research I came across a story of a squadron of bombers planning to flatten the Vatican, this was foiled only 24 hours before the attack was to take place. Revealing this brought me many readers across the world, but also many enemies. Ozark Books, one of my publishers, said I risked my life daily to expose some of the darkest secrets of the Papacy.

Many of my books have been translated into a number of languages from French, German and Spanish, to Hebrew, Czech and Russian. ‘The Vatican in World Politics’ ran to fifty editions. One review said that a copy of ‘The Vatican’s Holocaust’ was hurled across St Pauls Cathedral in London, the book was criticised, condemned, banned, destroyed and even burned as frequently as it has been recommended and praised in many parts of the world.

In 1983 Chick Publications in America published ‘The Vatican Billions’ where I explain how the popes stole the wealth of the world through the centuries. I expose the incredible tricks played on kings, and papal involvement with the Bolsheviks. I reveal the story of how millions are missing from the Vatican Bank, the suicide of the banker Calvi under a London Bridge, and the jailed Vatican Bankers.

As I’ve said the subject matter of my writing had brought me many readers across the world but also people who would like to see me silenced. In 1986 I was in America to deliver a speech and promote my book ‘The Vatican’s Holocaust’ when I was caught in the cross hairs of one organisation. The Ustasha was a revolutionary movement from Croatia, they specialised in the assassination of prominent people. After my speech I was standing at the bar when I was approached by a man and he whispered to me in a matter of fact tone of voice “I came to the convention to kill you”. He departed as other people came up to me for signed copies of my book. One of these men was my bodyguard and when I told him of the incident he froze and told me that he recognised him as one of the most ruthless Usthasa killers. Something had changed his mind; you could say I had dodged a bullet – again.

But the love of my life and best friend was Anne Cunningham – Brown. She was very loving, caring and kind. We were never apart for more than a few days, it was like we were meant to be together. I first met Anne at a cocktail party in London in 1963; she worked in a hospital there. She was originally from Shotley Bridge, a small town in the North East but her mother was living on the coast in South Shields and Anne invited me up there.

I was greatly surprised by it – especially the beauty of the parks and the seafront. It is a real pleasure to be able to look out and see the horizon. It is where I can work in peace and quiet, or just sit in the house that my dear wife decorated, with its heavy drapes, antiques, cherub figures and a piano in the corner, all very bohemian. Some days I just take our dog for a walk, buy fish and chips, and sip Newcastle Brown Ale.

I remember during the 1970’s Anne was commuting to work at a hospital in London. I used to phone and write to her.  

‘Dearest Love, I miss you very much after you left last week the house seemed so empty. It was a strange sense of absence and void. Which proves that when I’m near you I love you very much, and that you are part of my life and work. I love to hear your voice on the telephone. Somehow it completes my day’.

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We were together nearly 30 years and our life was fantastic, we loved to holiday, especially in the United States. We spent time in Los Angeles, California and Utah with its beautiful canyons. From time to time we stayed in Kensington and sometimes fly over to our flat in Sitges in Spain, but lived mostly in South Shields. We used to go to the local theatre and enjoy watching the shows and regularly hosted dinner parties and barbecues. As a couple we were always together, when my dear wife died in 2008, she was buried with me.

But there was a time in my life when I took a break from writing as I felt I had put myself under so much pressure with the amount of research I was doing plus trying to meet deadlines, it all got too much and I needed to stop, or at least slow down.

Anne gave me guidance, extra confidence in my writing, but I felt the work was getting to me, the stories that I was finding out and revealing to my readers were suffocating me, at times I felt that I couldn’t breathe. I was carrying important information around with me, and it was getting heavier. It felt like my head was going to explode.

Ann was very worried about the effect it was having on my health, I always said it was the nurse in her, wanting to take care of me. I really needed to take a vacation, and recharge my batteries, but I felt compelled to look further, to progress and soak up more of the stories then let my readers know what is going on in the world around us. I really felt I was doing the right thing by exposing all these secrets and lies.

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Since coming to Britain 40 years ago, I had been working on a book about an imaginary god invented by primitive man to give himself courage and hope in his struggle for survival, The Dawn of Man is better than the garden of Eden….my hero, Azor is better than Adam. I talk about how a new world will emerge, and the start of a brighter future for mankind. I thought it was my finest work so I got in touch with Lyle Stuart one of my publishers in the USA asking if he would like to release it.

But the irony was that as soon as it was ready, to my surprise I had a heart attack on my 75th birthday. After a short stay in hospital I made a recovery and was straight back to work, and we released the book. To say the least, Anne was very disappointed in me putting my work, my passion ahead of my health. It will kill you in the end she used to say.

I was still working to my last days, I was planning a new book and my research was leading to a links with The Vatican, the CIA, and murders of very prominent people in the western world. This was a conspiracy which would shake the foundations of these organisations. There is no proof – yet. But the truth will come out in the end, believe me my friend. Someday it will be known.

So that’s it, that’s my story. I ended my days here in South Shields where I produced my best work living close to the sea and where I could see the stars more clearly.

END.

Yes that’s it, for now.  A story of a fascinating character who ended his day’s in a small seaside town. The research is on-going and new information has come to light. Part two of his story is being written revealing more about the man who called himself Baron Avro Manhattan.

Further reading about Manhattan on earlier blogs:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/07/17/secrets-lies-documentary-based-on-the-life-of-baron-avro-manhattan/

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/08/13/secrets-lies-new-documentary-about-baron-avro-manhattan/

Gary Alikivi 2019.

SOUNDS ALIVE: The Power of Music

The adrenalin rush of the thunderclap from Icelandic football fans. The guitar intro to Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers. Kurt Cobains anger on the Nirvana anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit. And what about John Bonhams bombastic drums on When the Levee Breaks ? Sound has a real strength and songs have unforgetable moments. What’s yours ? 

orig 2000

Music has a power to ignite and heal. Rewind to the 80s. A charity single aimed at raising money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Pop and rock stars of the day including the Durans, Spandau, Quo, Sting, Bono and not forgetting Bananarama crammed into Sarm West studio in London. Songwriters Bob Geldoff and Midge Ure realised they didn’t have a nice little charity single on their hands but a major pop record when George Michael and Boy George laid down their vocal tracks on ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’. The song raised millions and the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium followed. Bono becoming Bono. Freddy’s Big Night Out. And Geldof salutes ‘The lesson today is how to die’. History was made. The power of music.

The shelves in my local library are full of music related books. Lately I’ve read biographies by Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing and the Russian classical composer, Prokofiev. Complete contrasts ? Prokofiev has his lighter moments but listen to Dance of the Pagan Master. That’s Heavy Metal from way back. You’ll also find a bit of Prokofiev in Greg Lakes ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’. Check out the horse drawn sleigh in ’Troika’. Wonderful sound. What am I saying here ? Well, not only do we want to listen to music, but read about it and talk about it. That’s the power of music.

Of course we all have our own tastes and top ten lists. But music is a leveller and it can be used to sum up our feelings at any given moment. After the England football team were beaten in the Euro 96 semi finals Walk Away by Cast was played on TV over pictures of the manager Terry Venables head down, hands in pockets walking down the touch line. Knowing this was probably his last match in charge. In that team Geordies Gazza and Shearer stood tall. But football didn’t come home that day. 

orig 1999

 

The internet in the late 90s. Is that when music started to lose it’s value ? I’m not talking about value that rings the till. More of a value that can be considered important. Even cherished. In interviews guitarist Noel Gallagher talked of Oasis not being the most popular band in the 90s, but the most important. Blur might have something to say on that one, but they never had quarter of a million at Knebworth.

What is the attraction of music ? Some songs have great stories. You’ll have your own favourites like the first records you bought. The songs that marked important moments in your life. The inspiration behind them, who wrote the lyrics and what it means to you. And finally your funeral song. Yep, some people have their favourites ready for when they finally check out. Music really is the soundtrack to our lives. From beginning to the end.

Well the music is your special friend. Dance on fire as it intends 

Music is your only friend. Until the end.  (Jim Morrison, When the Music’s Over). 

Gary Alikivi October 2018.

ALIKIVI

Recommended:

1980 The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside   11th Feb. 2018.

Rockin’ All Over the Toon  22nd May 2018.

Rockin’ All Over the Toon Again  14th Sept. 2018.

When the Music’s (not) Over 24th Sept. 2018.

For more Tyneside stories why not subscribe to the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

SECRETS & LIES – documentary based on The Life of Baron Avro Manhattan.

 

A11The time has got to feel right to work on a project. I came across Avro Manhattan during Summer 2012 in the Local Studies section of South Shields Library. There are a couple of large cabinets, inside are files with photographs and cuttings from local newspapers. All in alphabetical order. At the time I was researching Eileen O’Shaughnessy, the wife of George Orwell, when I came across Manhattan. I flicked through to the O’s but landed in the letter M’s and came across a name which was unusual for Tyneside. I pulled out the file and inside I was gobsmacked what I was reading.

Manhattan was born in Italy in 1914, he was a Writer, Poet and Artist. He had met Picasso, had homes in London and Spain, and in his will left over half a million pounds. Impressive story for someone who ended their days in a terraced house in South Shields. I needed to find out more but had a few projects to complete first.

A week later I was in a charity shop when I came across a small book ‘Poems by Manhatten’ – he was still about. At the entrance of South Shields library there was a small plinth about 5ft tall with a bust of Manhattan on top. I used to tap his head a couple of times for luck. Eventually I gathered a lot of information about him but it wasn’t until June 2015 when I went to the Blackhill cemetery in Shotley Bridge and found the grave and headstone for Baron Avro Manhattan. 

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Article from The Shields Gazette, June 2015.

There was more information on various websites but a lot more digging was needed – talking to his ex-neighbours and friends. I put a request in The Shields Gazette and recieved a few calls in response. The story was on their website and a woman from Germany called Gunda Kraepelin got in touch. She sent over some photo’s of Avro when he was a young artist in Italy. She also told stories about him when he was young as her mother knew him well. Another response was from somebody closer to home.

A woman had bought the South Shields house that he died in.  Inside were carpets, curtains, old bits of furniture and in a spare room upstairs was a box of artwork, books, letters and photographs – full of personal stuff. Lucky she kept hold of it and handed it over to me – it was a goldmine of information about Avro’s life. The material took some sorting out and helped fill some gaps in his timeline. 

After months of research and writing the script, I was ready to record and make a documentary of his life. North East actors Jonathan Cash with his wife Helen recorded the narration and musician’s John Clavering and Dom Santos added sound. In The Customs Space studio in South Shields I was sitting with the sound engineer Martin Trollope and Helen Cash in the control room. In the studio Jonathan was sitting next to a microphone with a copy of the script.

After reading all the material on Avro, writing the story and looking at his photo’s I imagined what he might sound like. I was looking down at the script when Martin said ok let’s go for it. Jonathan read the first sentence and I immeadiately turned to Helen and said ‘Avro’s in the room’. It was brilliant. The rest of the session went really well and I was confident that I had the narration for the documentary. 

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During a project leaving plenty of space and time can allow more information to be collected – a positive aspect of not having to work to a deadline. So it was left for another year as I worked on other projects. I received a couple more leads from interested people but nothing that would add to the film. Then in June 2018 I decided to prepare the documentary to upload onto You Tube – but not until I watched the World Cup first !  – The search isn’t over to find out all the Secrets and Lies.

Watch ‘Secrets & Lies’ here and check out some of my other films on You Tube and subscribe to the channel. 

Gary Alikivi July 2018.