TOON TUNES – with former Newcastle Dingwalls manager Chris Murtagh

A comprehensive list of gigs at North East venues are being put together, and recently to add to the growing list, pages out of a booking list and diary from gigs at Dingwalls in 1983 turned up on line. Entries included:

26.3.83 – Big Country Fee: £240 – 282 @ £1.50. Excellent band and performance. Perfect timing with release of single. Excellent debut in the North-East.

3.3.83 – Raven & Hellanbach Fee: Raven £300 – Hellanbach £60 – 269 @ £1.50 Terrific stage show. Very good heavy rock band with good repertoire. Good following.

Raven bassist John Gallagher told me about the night… ‘I just remember the place being chilly…at least until we got started! There was a decent turnout and we were promoting the ‘All for One’ album. I don’t remember much more to be honest !’ …well it was nearly 40 years ago. But to find out more I contacted the manager at the time and owner of the book, Chris Murtagh….I don’t have the diary now as I’ve sold it but have a digital copy of the acts who appeared. Like the other Bierkellers around the UK the entertainment promoter Harvey Goldsmith bought all the venues for £1 and re-christened them Dingwalls. Yes only a £1 but Harvey had to service their debts and running costs. They were in the basement of office blocks, mine was in Waterloo Street, Newcastle. It had a capacity of 1200.

I was manager of the venue during 1983, it was Dingwalls from January to June when it went into liquidation and reverted to Vaux Breweries, the biggest creditor. Then from June to December Vaux changed the name to the Bear Pit but I was retained as manager.

How did you get the managers job ? I’d done several promotions there and had threatened to sue Goldsmith for breach of a contract for cancelling one of them. Turned out his General Manager offered me the job instead. I was the only manager who was also a promoter. All the other Bierkeller managers at Sheffield, Hull, Liverpool, Bristol and London were ex-Mecca managers and older than me. They got two for the price of one in me being manager/promoter and Chris Donald from very early Viz comics did all my publicity.

What was the Newcastle venue like ? It was like being buried in a hole in the ground for months without seeing daylight. When we closed and tidied-up well after midnight, we’d go and chill out at Rockshots upstairs till about 3am. Then back at work about 4pm the same day. My bar manager once dragged me to the City baths for a massage which connected me back to my body that I’d totally lost track of.

Martha Reeves was booked for May ’83 and your diary entry reads….Martha chatted me up in the office. Didn’t know where to put myself. She could have eaten me for breakfast. Motown comes to Dingwalls. Brilliant professional show.

What can you remember from that day ? Martha Reeves terrified me as I must have been the youngest manager she’d come across and she was a very experienced older woman.

In the diary for June, Murtagh booked female group Girlschool with support from North East heavy metal band Satan. His notes of the gig included… Girlschool arrived for their first headline tour after supporting Motorhead. They didn’t have any money and asked if I could help them out which I did. Nice girls who put on a good show but treated rubbish by their record company.

Satan a good local heavy metal band with a good following. I’d previously promoted them, famously at the St James & St Basil’s Church in Fenham where the posters read ‘Appearing live on stage, Satan.’ That pulled in a good congregation.

Also that month Dr Feelgood came to Newcastle with support from North East band R & B Spitfires….Full on red-hot rock band with commitment and attitude. Real pros – no messing about with sound checks – Brilliant. Wilko went to college up here so he had his own following.  Local band Spitfires acquitted themselves well in such company.

More entries to the diary with some excellent comments about the bands and gigs….22.4.83 – Gun Club + Sisters of Mercy. Fee: £511.25 – 548 @ £1.50. Sisters, good appreciative following, hypnotic beat with drum machine, bass and guitar. Led by Joey Ramone lookalike. Effective visual presence.

Gun Club, should have been called ‘Gin Club’, Jim Morrison just before he died. Good presence, good songs, terrible sound.

6.5.83 – Miami Steve. Brilliant American band. Shame about Steve and the material. Bruce Springsteen can keep him. Stayed in the tour bus only coming in to play the gig. Oh and don’t touch his bandana. Precious bastard, up his own arse.

10.5.83 – Bad Brains. Turned up 6 hours late so most of the audience left. Refused to pay them which set-up a stand-off between the band and my security. Lots of martial arts posturing until it finally dawned on them they would get severely plastered if they stayed. Bad brains indeed.  

16.5.83 – The Vibrators + Red Alert. Not overly impressed by the reformed Vibrators. Canny lads though. Their guitars were nicked before they went on, then retrieved by Red Alert, who were themselves a very impressive act.  

After you left what happened with the venue ? Harvey Goldsmith owned Dingwalls but his CEO was Peter Gross, an accountant, who’d run a chain of restaurants called The Great American Disaster in London. At each of the venues he’d bring a brewery in as sponsor. In Newcastle’s case it was Vaux Brewery who gave him three quarters of a million pounds. When the receivers Ernst Whinney were brought in because Harvey was going into liquidation for about the seventh time, I talked to him on the phone. ‘You’ll be alright my boy’, were the last words he spoke to me.

The venue reverted to Vaux Breweries with them being the biggest creditor. When Paul Nicholson CEO of Vaux arrived, he asked what Harvey had done with all the money. I said he’d stuck a black plastic crow on the wall and extended the stage. You’ll notice every poster advertising a Goldsmith promotion has a little fat man in the corner. That’s Harvey. He also used a black crow as the logo for Dingwalls. ‘I hope that bloody crow lays golden eggs’ was Paul’s reply.

Basically, Harvey used all the money for running costs. If he’d taken the time to run the venues himself it might have worked, but he was too busy touring the Stones, Dylan, Bowie etc and left the running to Peter Gross, who was clueless about the music industry. Vaux wanted to appoint their own manager of what they now branded ‘The Bear Pit’. My staff refused to work for them so I was retained as manager.

Murtagh came across North East manager and promoter Geoff DochertyMy first encounter with Geoff Docherty was when he was looking after Preacher, a band led by Tony Ions. I needed a rehearsal place for my new band Fan Heater and Tony who I’d played with in Slaughter House, suggested I approach Geoff to see if I could share their rehearsal rooms in the derelict Hydraulic Crane pub on Scotswood Road, Newcastle.

Not only did Geoff give us the pub but he said he’d get us a gig at the Marquee Club and Rock Garden in London supporting The Showbiz Kids who he also managed. ‘Oh yes, of course you will’ I thought being very sceptical. I couldn’t believe it when he was as good as his word. Total respect.

What did you do after Dingwalls ? After leaving there I continued promoting in Newcastle, Leeds and tours around the UK, including with my own band. 1994 I became a director of the pan-European touring organisation the Newcastle Free Festival inaugurating Cities of Culture, including being the first festival to perform under the Berlin Wall when it came down in 1989.

That same year, as part of the festival, I brought over the Peruvian band APU. 30 years later I’m still their manager. This also drew me into World Music which I’ve promoted ever since. As part of being a promoter, I worked as an A Level sponsor for the Home Office for over 25 years issuing visas for non-EEC artists to tour the UK. I still enjoy playing all over the world and organise festivals and events internationally.

Contact Chris on the official website:

www.line-up.co.uk

Interview by Gary Alikivi   June 2020.

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (12)

Based in Discovery Museum in the heart of Newcastle, Tyne & Wear Archives is home to thousands of documents relating to the five local districts of Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside.

The documents range from 12th to 21st centuries and include building plans, school, hospital and church records as well as business records, especially those of important local industries such as shipbuilding, engineering and mining.

Recently I contacted Tyne & Wear Archive about a photo they have in their collection.

’This photo was taken on 29th July 1937, the Basque children are being welcomed to Newcastle by the Lord Mayor, Alderman John Grantham – it’s from a photograph album documenting his period in office.

We also know from a diary in the Archive collection that a group of Basque refugee children were staying in Tynemouth in the autumn of 1937, but it isn’t clear whether these were the same group or another contingent.

It is a sad foreshadowing of the evacuation of British children from the cities at the start of World War 2. And these kids were arriving in a foreign country where few if any of them probably even spoke the language’.

Independent Historian Don Watson has been in touch with further information about the Spanish refugee’s. His article will be posted soon.

For more information about Tyne & Wear Archives contact: https://twarchives.org.uk/

If you have any information about the photograph or the North East men and women who were involved in the Spanish Civil War please get in touch at garyalikivi@yahoo.com

Gary Alikivi  June 2020.

 

SKUETENDERS – stories from South Shields.

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In the North East of England, the Lawe Top is an area that run’s parallel to the river Tyne and looks out to South Shields harbour and North Sea. It was once an island, and in some way’s it still is. Some residents I interviewed in summer 2011 were proud to talk about the Lawe being ‘a little village up on the hill’ away from the town of South Shields. The documentary included narration by local historian and former museum worker Angus McDonald with music by North East musician Martin Francis Trollope.

This a short extract from some of the interview’s…

Janis Blower: It still has to a certain extent the same old identity that it had with the river and the sea, although the pilot’s have moved away from the area. It’s like a little village with it’s own unique identity.

Dave Slater: It’s an area which I’ve always liked and a lot of people living in Shields have this affinity with it. They think it’s like a special place. And the houses are nice they have their little quirks.

On Fort Street and the corner of Roman Road is Crawfords Newsagents….

Bob Crawford: (owner) I’ve been here 28 years it’s always been a newsagent’s, on the deed’s it say’s from 1920. Enjoy living on the Lawe Top. Made a lot of friends. Lot of nice people live on the Lawe Top. Hopefully be here a bit longer.

Jane Price: I’ve been working here about 10 years now and it’s quite handy cos I live on the street. Literally fall out the door into work. And it’s lovely living up here it’s like a village separate from Shields. Like a really close community. I also work in the pub at the end of the street. The Look Out pub. It’s really nice I enjoy it, my kid’s had a good upbringing here.

Living on The Lawe people are known as Skuetenders. But what is a Skuetender ?

Janis Blower: Well there is various theories to what a Skuetender is. One of them is that if you look down on the area from above the Lawe is in the shape of a skate. But probably the most reliable one is that this is the end of the river where the original fishing hut’s where, the fishing Shiels from which South Shields took it’s name. And it’s where they would salt the fish, and skuet is an old word for ‘to salt’. So if you were born at this end of the river you were a Skuetender or  it’s become Skitender over the years.

Ethne Brown: Well I’ve always lived on the Lawe Top, I was born on the Lawe Top in Trajan Avenue so I’m a Skitender born and bred.

Mel Douglas: Skitender is someone who has lived in this locality within a certain distance of the river. Yes I’ve always been one of them but not as much as Duncan Stephenson as he’s a proper Skitender.

Duncan Stephenson: A Skitender ? You’ve got to have a ring around your bottom end where you sat on a bucket when you were a kid. That’s where a proper Skitender came from, if ya’ haven’t got a ring round yer bottom end yer not a Lawe Topper.

Janis Blower: Well I was born and brought up in Woodlands Terrace so as a child you would just have to walk down Woodlands Terrace and you were straight on to the hill top. If the weather was good you literally spent all yer time out on the hill top or down onto the beach. What our mothers didn’t see what we got up to was a good thing.

Mel Douglas: When I was young I lived in George Scott Street. That was my impressionable time but we eventually moved up to this house (Lawe Road) which I’ve enjoyed. On the hill top area when I was a boy there was the gun encampments and Trinity Towers – a sort of radar station which was all fenced off.

Janis Blower: Trinity Towers was a magical place to play because it was so much like a castle or a fort. It had been originally built in the 1830’s by Trinity House, as a pilot look out. It stayed that until the early part of last century when the new pilot house was built at the top end of the park. By the time we were playing in it, it was the radar station for the college. You couldn’t actually get in it but it had bushes around it and little nook’s and crannies.

Mel Douglas: The encampment where the gun’s where for example a lot of people aren’t sure where they were. But looking out of my window if you catch the time of year when spring is starting to come through, realising that the gun’s and the fence had some sort of foundations, well there wasn’t much soil on top of that and the rest of the area in deep soil. So when the grass started to grow it would grow quickly where there was plenty of soil. But where the foundations of the encampment was there was no soil to speak about.

Janis Blower: By the time I was a child playing on the hill top the actual gun’s themselves had gone but you could still see where the gun emplacements had been the big round pit’s had been there. They had been fenced off originally but I’m sure that I can remember sitting on one of them dangling my leg’s inside. You were always being warned off them.

On the Lawe Top is Arbeia Roman Fort…

Dave Slater: I noticed when we moved here when we walked up Lawe Road is on the wall, name plaques of Roman emperors like Julian Street etc.. and the one round the corner is the name of his wife. So you can always learn something new as old as you are and as many times you been up here.

Janis Blower: The fort was very open in those days and we used to play in it as children you wouldn’t think about doing that now. I don’t suppose as a child you really appreciated what a heritage monument it was. There used to be a caretakers house attached to it which has been demolished long since, and when you used to play on the green between the hill top and the pilot house, if ya dug around you could find bit’s of stoneware. I remember the red samian ware that you see in the fort, and we would find these bit’s of things and we would take them to the caretakers house and knock on the door ‘Is this a bit of roman pottery’ and he would say ‘Yes look’s like it is’. But I think after we had done it after the fifth or sixth time it was ‘No it’s a bit o’ brick’.

The Lawe Top used to be home to St Aidens and St Stephens Churches….

Joan Stephenson: When a lot of the houses were pulled down around this area and people moved to other part’s of Shields and they want their children baptised or anything they still say St Stephen’s is their church and they come back.

Ethne Brown: I was born up here and I was christened at St Stephen’s Church and all my family and father’s brother’s were in the church choir. My Grandma Whale on more than one occasion opened the fete at St Stephen’s church. It’s always been the pilot’s church and nice that they were in the choir. I was also married at St Stephen’s Church.

Mel Douglas: With respect to that I was very fortunate when sadly they pulled the church (St Aidens) down that I was in a position where I could buy the pew that I sat on as a boy and have in a room upstairs. The pew used by people getting married, my father, Grandfather, myself, all male members of the family had sat on that pew when getting married. Very proud of it.

Joan Stephenson: When St Aiden’s closed they amalgamated with St Stephen’s, it was sad because St Aiden’s was a lovely church. In the 1970’s we decided to make this building into a multi-purpose building to make it more economic to run and it stayed up while unfortunately St Aiden’s closed. Once the chairs are put to the side we hold dances, mother and toddlers, young kid’s come into dance, social evenings, it’s a really good venue for anything like that.

The street that overlook’s the Tyne is Greens Place where I spoke to Karen Arthur and her father George…

Karen: When you were little what did you used to see around here ?

George: We used to go to the shop along there beside the Turks Head pub. Shrybos you called here. We nicknamed her Fanny Mossy. Everyone knew her around here. She was an eccentric, she was an old maid and owned that shop.

Karen: Did she only let one person in at a time Dad ?

George: Yes if two of you went in she would say ‘Get out one of ya’. Cos she knew if she was serving one the other one would be helpin’ themselves with the sweets an’ that.

Lenonard Smith: We moved to 23 Greens Place in 1947 and that was great because at one time 17 lived in four flats. There was one tap outside and one toilet. Me happy days of the Lawe Top was I used to go to the Corporation Quay and I spent all my school holiday’s going away with the inshore fishermen. With the net’s it was driving, then crab pot’s and longlines. We used to bait up in the cabins on the Corporation Quay and the light was done by carbine. The only thing with carbine was that when you went home you had black tash’s where the smoke would get up your nostrils.

On Baring Street is the art shop Crafty Corner….

Trevor Dixon: We purchased this property 8 year’s ago now and it used to be Crabtree’s the Bakers. Where I’m sitting now there used to be a massive oven that came right from the back of the shop. Took 6 months to cut it out and skip after skip. Our shop is a craft shop and ceramic studio. It’s a very old building that we are in and it’s reckoned that we have ghosts. They’re all friendly. We’ve had a few local ghost groups bringing all their instruments in here and in the basement. They reckon we do have a lot of ghosts and we have things moved around now and then, disappear for a few day’s then turn up again.

I don’t think we could have picked a better place to be cos as you know The Lawe Top goes back in history as a creative place and I feel we’ve meant to be here.

Final words about The Lawe Top….

Mel Douglas: If it was up to me I would live in this house for the rest of my life. It’s a beautiful house and I love the community that I live in. Fantastic neighbours, nice people, I’d live nowhere else.

Ethne Brown: I just love living here on this Lawe Top. The house is a bit big nowadays but I don’t know where else I would go in the town. This is the only place to live.

Janis Blower: Everybody knows everybody else, yeah it’s a fabulous area to live. I can’t imagine to be living anywhere else to be honest.

Joan Stephenson: Just a lovely place to live.

Duncan Stephenson: Got everything here, beaches, parks. Home is where…

Joan: Your heart is.

To read more about the film go to the blog Skuetenders Aug.25th 2018.

 Gary Alikivi August 2019.

ZAMYATIN The Russia – Tyneside Connection film research & script

On the 7th & 21st August 2018 research for a short film about Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937) is featured on this blog. On today’s post I’ve added the script from the film I made about his life. The narrator’s were North East actor’s Iain Cunningham and Jonathan Cash. Recorded by Martin Francis Trollope at Customs Space studio in South Shields and excellent soundtrack from North East musician John Clavering.

Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin

Start.

Russian born Yevgeny Zamyatin lived with his wife in Paris until his death in March 1937. Their last few years were lived in poverty and only a small group of friends were present at his burial. His death was not mentioned in the Soviet press.

Zamyatin was an author of science fiction and political satire. Famous for his 1921 novel ’We’ – a story set in a dystopian future – the book was banned in Russia. In his novel ‘1984’ George Orwell acknowledged his debt to Zamyatin.

But how does Tyneside fit in this story ?

Zamyatin was born in a small town 200 miles south of Moscow on 19th January 1884. He had an educated middle class background, his father was a teacher and his mother a musician.

Zamyatin studied Naval engineering at the St Petersburg Polytechnic Institue. He spent winters in the city and summers enjoying practical work in shipyards and at sea. The Middle East being one destination – a rich experience for the future writer.

He was a supporter of the revolution and joined the Bolsheviks, attending demonstrations and meetings. But he was arrested during the 1905 Revolution – for this he was sent to prison for several months. His time there was spent learning short hand and writing poems.

He completed his course in Naval Engineering and was employed as a college tutor. He was also writing short stories and essays – his first published in 1908. Zamyatin immersed himself in the bohemian life of St Petersburg and was an important part of the cultural scene in Russia.

At the time of the First World War Russia were having ice breakers built in UK shipyards. Zamyatin was sent to North East England in 1916 to work as a Naval engineer for the Russian Empire. He supervised the construction of the ships on the river Tyne. While there he lived in Jesmond near Newcastle and during his eighteen month stay he was reported to travel around Tyneside and improve his knowledge of the language.

“In England I built icebreakers in Glasgow, Newcastle, Sunderland, South Shields, and looked at ruined castles. The Germans showered us with bombs from airplanes. I listened to the thud of bombs dropped by Zeppelins”.

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Laurence O’Shaughnessy lived in South Shields and worked there as Customs Collector on the river Tyne. His daughter Eileen married the author George Orwell. Was there a connection to Zamyatin ? Leslie Hurst from The Orwell Society looked at the possibility.

‘Would the Russian ships have been checked by customs before leaving the Tyne ? When Orwell learned of the existence of ‘We’ he might have discussed it with Eileen and heard her say that her father had met it’s author. When Orwell died, Eileens library was found mixed with his. Might Eileen have read Orwell’s copy of ’25 Years of Soviet Russian Literature’  and mentioned the Russian engineer who visited South Shields in her childhood ? It is an intriguing possibility’.

When living on Tyneside, Zamyatin wrote two short stories  ’The Fisher of Men’ and ’Islanders’. After a day at the shipyards he would sit at his desk and write about the blinkered and pretentious world of the middle class.

‘By Sunday the stone steps of the houses in Jesmond had as usual been scrubbed to a dazzling whiteness, like the Sunday gentlemen’s false teeth. The Sunday gentlemen were of course manufactured at a factory in Jesmond, and thousands of copies appeared on the streets. Carrying identical canes and wearing identical top hats, the respectable Sunday gentlemen in their false teeth strolled down the street and greeted their doubles’.

Both stories were published on his return to Russia. But by then, the 1917 revolution was burning. He regretted not witnessing the start of it.

“I returned to Petersburg, past German submarines, in a ship with lights out, wearing a life belt the whole time. This is the same as never having been in love and waking up one morning already married for ten years or so”.

The famine, war and economic collapse of the country had a major influence on his literary career.

“If I had not returned home, if I had not spent all these years with Russia, I don’t think I would have been able to write anymore. True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics”.

In 1921, ‘We’ became the first work banned by the Soviet censorship board. In 1923, he arranged for the manuscript to be smuggled to a publisher in New York. After being translated into English the novel was published.

With his political satire, a number of essays that criticised the Communist ideology and dealing with Western publishers, Zamyatin has been referred to as one of the first Soviet dissidents. As a result, he was blacklisted from publishing anything in his homeland.

The English writer Harold Heslop had seven books published and his first was in the Soviet Union. In 1930 he was invited to the Ukraine to speak at the Revolutionary Writers Conference. While there he also travelled to Leningrad to meet Zamyatin who he wanted to help promote his latest book.

Harold was born in Durham but for many years lived in South Shields. He was a miner at Harton Colliery before winning a scholarship to Central Labour College in London.

 (Zamyatin to Heslop) “I cannot quite place you. Are you a Geordie may I ask. I catch the Tyneside dialect in your speech. Am I right ? I know Tyneside well. I liked the people very much. I also liked their strange, musical dialect. Often I found it most amusing. South Shields… Sooth Sheels! I never learned to sing the Tyneside speech!”

Zamyatin read lectures on Russian literature, served on boards with some of the most famous figures in Russian literature, but by 1931 he was experiencing difficulties. Under the ever tightening censorship, and becoming unpopular with critics who branded him a traitor, he appealed directly to Joseph Stalin requesting permission to leave the Soviet Union – a voluntary exile.

“I do not wish to conceal that the basic reason for my request for permission to go abroad with my wife is my hopeless position here as a writer, the death sentence that has been pronounced upon me as a writer here at home”.

Eventually Stalin agreed to Zamyatin’s request and he and his wife left for Paris, where there was already a small Russian community. While there he wrote new stories, most of his earlier work was translated around Europe, but a notable piece of work was his co-writing of a film with French director Jean Renoir.

Just before his death he had told a friend…“I had to leave Soviet Russia as a dangerous counter revolutionary and abroad I hesitate to approach the Russian community, while they treat me coldly and suspiciously”.

He lived out his last years with his wife until his death from a heart attack in 1937, and a final resting place for Zamyatin can be found in a cemetery south of Paris.

End.

Research:

Zamyatin – A Soviet Heretic by D.J. Richards.

Islanders/The Fishers of Men – Salamander press Fiction.

We – Yvegney Zamyatin.

Out of the Old Earth – Harold Heslop.

Short 9min film available on the Alikivi You Tube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W4A0nZ7_PQ

 Gary Alikivi 2018.

RUSSIA’S GEORDIE SPY with author Vin Arthey

Searching your family history can throw up a few surprises. My Great Uncle Alexander Allikivi was born in Russia at a time of political and social unrest resulting in two revolutions, the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the Soviet Union by the Bolsheviks. Have you ever wondered why some stubborn or awkward people are called bolshy ? Was it Bolshy Alex ?  Little is known about the life of Allikivi. He lived in South Shields during the ‘20s until his death in 1933. I know he received two Mercantile Marine and British Medal ribbons by 1921, but what had he done before that ? When did he first arrive in the UK and why did he leave Russia ?

In the search for some clues I read ‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’, a book by Vin Arthey about father and son Heinrich and William Fisher. Heinrich was born in Russia in 1871 and William was born in 1903 in Newcastle. In 1921 the Fishers were in Moscow. The Spielberg film ‘Bridge of Spies’ starring Tom Hanks features what happened to William.

Reading Vin’s book I came across this…’He (Heinrich Fischer) maintained all his political links. He remained a member of the Russian Socialist Democratic Workers Party and in UK politics aligned himself with the Social Democratic Federation members who seceded to found the British Socialist Party, working for the party south of the Tyne, in South Shields, rather than in Newcastle’.

Was Allikivi involved in politics ? Were other Russians attending the meetings in South Shields and would he be attracted to gatherings with people who spoke the same language as him ? He would look forward to having conversations rather than using a few words or short phrases when meeting friends and family.

Edinburgh-based author Vin Arthey on Fri 12 January 2018.

Vin Arthey photograph by Andy Catlin.

I decided to contact Vin and asked him what was the inspiration behind writing ‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ ? When I was freelancing in the ‘90s I was offered an Associate Producer role by Trevor Hearing who’d just had his series, ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ commissioned by Tyne Tees TV. This was a series of six half-hour dramas and drama documentaries covering true regional stories such as those of the Darlington MP who turned out to be an international outlaw and leader of an obscure Chinese cult, and the Newcastle auction mart owner and television hypnotist who was jailed for swindling his mother out of thousands of pounds, and the County Durham relief bank manager who correctly foretold that his bank would be robbed and that he would be killed during the robbery.

Another story I researched was of Newcastle born William Fisher who turned out to be a KGB spy, used the name Rudolf Abel and was jailed for espionage in the United States in 1957. 5 year later he was exchanged across Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge for the American U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Fisher’s birth in Newcastle had been ascertained by Newcastle University historian David Saunders, and I had a number of meetings with David during the pre-production phase.

Trevor Hearing and I were convinced that the story was worthy of a network production, but it was turned down by BBC 2’s Timewatch and Channel 4’s Secret History. However, I kept on researching and writing, because I was absolutely hooked by the story.

You see, I could remember when I was 12 year old watching the news story on my family’s first, rented, TV set, of the KGB spy Rudolf Abel, who was arrested, tried and jailed in New York in 1957. The Cold War was very real to me as a teenager in East Anglia. My home was close to a number of United States airbases, and there were regular sightings of USAF Sabre, Phantom and Voodoo jet fighters and fighter-bombers.

I remember well the shooting down over the Soviet Union in May 1960 of Gary Powers’s high flying ‘weather reconnaissance’ aircraft, the ‘U-2’. As one of our teachers put it the day the news broke, ‘Awfully high weather we’re having these days,’.  Also I was still at school when the famous exchange of Powers and Abel took place.

You might imagine my excitement when I discovered that the Soviet spy at the centre of perhaps the greatest Cold War drama, the man who featured so strikingly in my school years, was a British subject, Newcastle born, at that. I couldn’t let the story go, and when I was approached by St Ermin’s Press to write a book I jumped at the chance.

St Ermin’s published it as a hardback with the title Like Father Like Son: A Dynasty of Spies. Later, Biteback Publishing bought the paperback rights and repackaged it as The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy: The Man They Swapped for Gary Powers. When the Spielberg movie Bridge of Spies was released in 2015, Biteback reprinted with yet another title, Abel: The True Story of the Spy They Traded for Gary Powers.

Did you do any readings or tour with the book ? The book (or should I say books!) have been well received, although I have to be realistic – Fisher was our enemy during the Cold War, a villain of the piece – a villain of the peace even! Over the last dozen years I’ve given talks on the Fisher story in various places and at a range of venues in Newcastle, North Shields, South Shields, Middlesbrough, Edinburgh, Reading, and there has been great interest in the United States, where the books have been reviewed for the CIA’s ‘Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf’.  I visited the USA for research and subsequently got to speak at the Brooklyn Historical Society and at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC.

What is your background Vin ? I was born, brought up and spent my early adult years in Ipswich, and although most of my life has now been spent in the North of England and in Scotland, I still regard myself as an East Anglian. I follow Ipswich Town football team through thick and thin – thin at the moment as we’ve just been relegated to what I still call the Third Division, and our arch rivals Norwich City have just made it back to the Premiership.

I’ve had a dual career, in education and the media, teaching in schools and a college of education then, when the birth rate dropped and the colleges were closing and merging, I was at Newcastle Polytechnic where I taught drama and media studies.

While this was happening, I started freelance scripting and reviewing for BBC Radio Newcastle and Tyne Tees. In the early ‘80s an opportunity arose to work fulltime at Tyne Tees, so I took it. Researching and producing across the whole range of the station’s output – current affairs, religious programmes, comedy, arts and features.

I went freelance again in the mid ‘90s, but at the end of the decade went back into university teaching and to heading up the TV Production degrees at Teesside University. Now, I’m settled in Edinburgh and supplement my pension with income from writing and speaking.

What are you working on now ? I review books about espionage, the Cold War and Russia for newspapers ‘The Scotsman’ and ‘Scotland on Sunday’. I’ve just finished a piece of ghostwriting – a privately commissioned piece for a retired hydroelectric power engineer, and I’m currently clearing my desk, and my head with a view to tackling a new book – still nonfiction, but still under wraps.

To hear from Vin check this link to an interview with Spy historian Vince Houghton at Spycast

https://www.spymuseum.org/multimedia/spycast/episode/the-real-story-of-rudolph-abel-an-interview-with-vin-arthey/

As for Alexander Allikivi, I am still searching for some answers.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019

PUTTIN’ ON A SHOW – in conversation with North East entertainer Helen Russell

 

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First time I worked with a stripper in the club’s. It was a Sunday morning. I walked into the club ‘Are ye’ the strippa or wat ?’ said a bloke there. ‘I’m the what’ I replied (laughs). The stripper walks into the dressing room with just a bag. I walked in with all my gear, microphone, speakers and stage costume. She did a 5 minute act then taxi to her next gig. She did 4 clubs in a morning. Not bad work but I couldn’t do it. I’ll stick to singing (laughs).

A few week’s ago the blog featured stories from entertainer’s who performed in workingmen’s clubs. Ned Kelly, Jack Berry and a few more shared some great memories. Carrying on that theme I spent time with Helen Russell at her home in South Shields. Helen hasn’t been feeling too well lately so I’m very grateful to her for taking the time to share her story….As a kid I was an autograph hunter, all the stars like Laurence Olivier and John Mills. Great times. We weren’t a musical family but my dad could sing, he was in the Royal Navy. You see I was born in the heart of London and when I was 15 I went into Entertainment National Service Association or otherwise known as Every Night Something Awful (laughs).

(ENSA was an organisation set up in 1939 by Basil Dean to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during World War 2).

They held the auditions in the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane in London. They liked me and took me on. I toured all over the UK with ENSA. I was earning £7 per week and that was damn good money. Top act’s and names were getting £10 per week. It was a long time ago, I’m 95 now.

Where did you perform with ENSA ? We played in the munitions factories when the workers were having their lunch breaks. We entertained in the theatres and clubs. I sang ‘Hey Neighbour’ and ‘Sally’ that was a big number. I did imitations of Gracie Fields but never sang any Vera Lynn songs and I always finished my act with a tap routine. I gave up when I got married. It was the done thing in those days. We met when I was entertaining in Belfast. Eventually we moved to England and I got a job performing in the clubs.The first club I played in South Shields was on Ocean Road which is long gone now.

At this time we lived in South Frederick Street and had we had no telephone. I used to go down into the street to the telephone box and ring up the clubs to get gig’s. I’d ask for the concert secretary, book the show and arrange the fee. I did that for years before the agent’s came in.

We had no transport in those day’s. For a show in Stanley, County Durham I’d pack my case with stage clothes, music sheets for the pianist, get the bus up from South Shields to Worswick Street in Newcastle, then carry my case across town to Marlbrough Crescent bus station and go to a club in Stanley another 10 mile away. We had to be off stage and out by 10pm to get the last bus all the way back home.

A pianist joined us, he had a car. He charged us 1 and sixpence each for petrol. I also had to pay a babysitter 7 and six a time. The first working man’s club I ever played was Windy Nook and we earned £1 each, there were 7 of us. Johnny Gaffney who wrote for The Shields Gazette, he had a great voice. No stage technique whatsoever but what a beautiful voice.

I went solo after that when agents came in and started working through the Beverly Agency. They got me lots of work around the North East and over to Carlisle a few times, lovely crowds there. Money was coming through the clubs then, so concert chairman would only deal with agency’s. Which was great for me. No running around telephone boxes, made it much easier and as I was solo the money was much better.

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Helen second from right. in Balmbras, Newcastle.

Can you tell me about the photo above ? Yes that was in Balmbras old time music hall, Newcastle. I had been performing there. Bobby Thompson has played there, also Dick Urwin who was a good writer and great comedian. You had to put him on in the first half because by the second he had too many drinks and would insult the audience. In Newcastle I also performed on stage at the Mayfair.

Can you remember the story behind this record ? That was recorded in 1980 over the river Tyne in Impulse Studio, Wallsend. Corrinne Wilde had written a song about Bobby Thompson and she knew I could write, so I added a chorus. It was a lovely thing to do. But selling records is a lot harder than making them. I sold a few at gig’s. Bobby Thompson paid for the photographer which was nice.

Helen starts singing the chorus…..

Bobby T, Bobby T,

You’re the Geordie lad for me

With yer ganzie hangin’

Doon below yer knees,

You’re as Geordie as the Tyne,

And for the sake of Auld Lang Syne,

We’ll tell the world we love you,

Bobby T.

Did you record anymore of your work ? I recorded voice over’s for radio and appeared on TV a number of times. I remember a part on a show with Martin Clunes, he was only 18 or 19 playing the part of a punk. I was in a lot of productions including Emmerdale, that was in 1993, also children’s television and the latest Comedy Playhouse. I also played somebody’s wife in Spender written by Jimmy Nail. It was a nice part and I get paid repeats on some of them. I have a book full of work and gig’s I’ve done over the years plus the fee’s. There’s a Spender episode written down in it as a repeat in Sweden, I got £9.56 for it (laughs).

Were you working through an agent ? Yes Janet Plater, she represents a lot of actor’s in the North East. The original fee for Spender was very good I remember. The last job I did for Janet was a Tesco advert.

You have appeared at your local theatre The Customs House in South Shields…I’ve worked on a number plays at The Customs House where Ray Spencer is now Director and an MBE. I got to know Ray in the 80’s when he was looking for a partner to work alongside him putting on some Geordie entertainment. Somebody recommended me and we worked together for a long time. Our first gig was the Post House Hotel, Washington in 1988. I have my book here and for the Post House there is a note next to it ‘Ray has the receipts’ (laughs).

The writer Tom Kelly put me in a few shows and that got me and the same team work on ‘Dirty Dusting’ written by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood. That was very popular, we did it in about 2002. The show still sell’s today in different countries.

Helen recalls another memory from working in the clubs…A lot of times I was the only woman because I was entertaining there and these were men’s clubs. I couldn’t get a drink at the bar. I had to give a man the money. He paid the man behind the bar, got the change and passed it to me with my drink !

Tell you what though, I never want to see another bingo card in my life (laughs).

Finally, what has working in entertainment meant to you ? I wouldn’t still be doing it in my 90’s if it didn’t mean anything to me. I was born to do it.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.