CARGOES in conversation with Creative Director, Garry Hunter

For his new project looking at the connection between the Tyne and the Thames, former South Shields lad Garry, now based in London,  was inspired by a poem written by English poet and writer, John Masefield –  you’ll find a Masefield Drive in Biddick Hall where Hunter grew up.

The poem Cargoes is all about sea trade and it starts with the romance of travel by ship, the second verse is of a Portugese war ship full of gold coins, with the third about a collier travelling between the Tyne and Thames full of coal. It’s a beautiful poem.

The main aim of the project is to engage with young people to learn about trade in the late 19th century and we look at innovation and technology from the 1800’s and compare it to now. Plus highlighting the type of work that William George Armstrong was doing here in the North East producing hydraulic machinery, cranes, bridges, then artillery.

At the eastern end of the Thames river in London are the high rise buildings of Canary Wharf, in their shadow is Cody Dock, which was operational until the mid-60s. A lot of colliers from the North East would take coal down there for the coal powered gas stations which are now being redeveloped into housing estates.

I set up a community pub in Poplar in 2018, to honour locally born engineer Tommy Flowers who designed the world’s first computer for Bletchley Park in 1943 and was given an honorary doctorate by Newcastle University in 1977.

THE TOMMY FLOWERS Community Pub, with Colossus operator veterans Betty and Rene in front of Tommy Flowers portrait created by Jimmy C who made the famous Bowie mural in Brixton.

Berkeley Homes have a partnership with the National Grid including Beckton which is where Stanley Kubrick shot scenes for his film about the Vietnam war, Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick didn’t want to go to Vietnam so they changed the east London gas works into Saigon (laughs).

We also look at tin plate photography of the 1850s used by Edward Sheriff Curtis who photographed Native American Indians, to glass plate techniques when Sunderland born inventor Joseph Swan brought his process into photography.

Wet Collodian 10 x 8 inch tinplates using mid 19thC technology.

The different techniques used are really interesting and young people can compare them to today’s mobile phone camera which basically does all the thinking for you.

SNAP HAPPY

When I was about 12 year old I started messing around with a camera taking pictures of street scenes, snap shots, stuff like that. I didn’t get a decent camera with a good lens until ’82 and started taking pictures of bands.

Around this time I went on a year’s course studying Marine Engineering at South Shields Marine & Technical College. Then a job came up for processing and printing photographs at Tynecolour, South Shields, at the same time a letter arrived from Charles Taylor Foundry offering me a job, but that was for £1 a week less (laughs).

So I was at Tynecolour for over four years which was a great grounding on all the technical side of processing film and using colour, and when nobody was looking I would print my own photos.

PRINT IT

As well as bands I photographed live comedy. I was at Sunderland Empire in ‘83 and had a front row ticket for The Young Ones. With six frames left on my camera I had to be careful because I didn’t have much money for new film. But ended up with three good shots which I printed.

The next year Rik Mayall was supported by a young Ben Elton and I got in the soundcheck. I took a few pictures, Rik was really great ‘You gotta come to London’ he said. So off I went he introduced me to a few people and I got my first pictures published – £25 for an hours work really, this was when I was only getting £30 a week at Tynecolour.

To be honest that’s when I was looking to get out I didn’t want to be here for the rest of my life. My Dad had gone round the world which gave me a sense of wanderlust. 1985 was a bad time in Shields, the pits had been on strike for a year, shipyards were closing, it was all grey and miserable I just had to get away. I felt it was important to try something new.

PICTURE THIS

So I moved down south and ended in The Lodge recording studio in Suffolk as in house photographer. Basically it was a farm house in the middle of nowhere run by semi classical musicians.

The studio was all analogue with quarter inch tape, and during my time there was a lot of recording done, one time in the studio was a French experimental band Orchestra Rouge, who were really interesting. But bands were getting into synthesisers and some of them should’ve stuck with what they were doing and not try to be trendy.

I remember coming down to breakfast one morning and punk band The Anti Nowhere League were moaning about their mortgages – even anarchists need a roof over their head (laughs).

At the studio Mal Tootill who designed all the record sleeves and tour merchandise was a lecturer at Swansea University and asked me if I’ve thought of going to art college. He phoned ahead to check it out while I hitch hiked from Suffolk to Bristol then on to Swansea and saw the head of the Art Department. The course was a really good move for me.

After that about 25 ex-students all moved to London so we weren’t alone there, and these were days when you could still squat and get along without much money, that saved me.

WRITING ON THE WALL

Fast forward to over 30 years later and after a successful career in professional photography, I came back up North in 2013 and started working on a project called Street Art Heroes supported by Cultural Spring for public engagement inspired by the street names of Biddick and Whiteleas.

There was a lot of work bringing international artists over from Brazil, Canada and New Zealand, to create murals in north Sunderland and Shields, when we all stayed at Hillhead Farm on Lizard Lane in Marsden. 

They created artworks in the area, one of which is a mural on the side of Chuter Ede training centre, it’s still there now. Chuter Ede used to be the school where I attended and it was great going back because when I was a teenager there I got caned for doing some graffiti (laughs).

Alice at Chuter Ede nearby Carroll Walk on Biddick Hall, South Shields commissioned by Garry Hunter for Cultural Spring mural artist Irony.

SAND DANCER

Next year is the International Year of Glass, that’s an interesting link to the collier ships going down to London and sand being used for ballast on the return journeys. It is reported that was a different sand from the beaches, it was better for glass making and used in the North East glass factories.

Nearby to where we are now (The Alum House pub, South Shields) was Cookson’s glass factory, half of the chimney is still standing next to The Custom’s House. In the latter part of the 19th century some people from the North East would go down to London and work in the glass works.

I’m really interested in all those industrial innovations and how people have used technology to progress trade and industry and with a successful Heritage funding bid we’ve been given the go ahead for a project.

We’re in the early stages of planning now, I’m working with Graham Carrick, a fine artist from Gateshead who is Director of Digital in our Community Interest Company, Fitzrovia Noir. Plus we’re bringing in two other organisations to work alongside us. I find it all very exciting and interesting – we’re making innovations in industry sound sexy (laughs).

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2021.

JAZZ PARTY – in conversation with drummer & first leader of the Green Party Group on South Tyneside, Councillor David Francis.

I really believe there are pivotal moments in your life. There are times when things happen and put your life in a different direction. I remember as a kid getting the first Van Halen album and it totally blew my mind, I thought it was amazing – still do now. When I put the record on the turntable, and hearing for the first time Eruption.

I started playing guitar first, and at school had a good teacher who encouraged me on the drums. Then I completed a degree at Leeds College of Music and came back to the North East and got into a bit of teaching, gigging and working in a drum shop.

Around 2010 I was in a bookshop in Newcastle when I picked up Labour MP Tony Benn’s diaries and thought, well there’s more important things going on in the world than drums. I wasn’t happy about how things were going under the coalition so looked at the Green Party – and joined in 2014.

FIRST LOVE

The first music I was into was Michael Jackson then quickly got into rock like Hendrix, Cream then more modern stuff like Iron Maiden. I would go to Pet Sounds in Newcastle and pick up second hand vinyl for £3.00 and also visit the record fairs. I progressed to listening to Frank Zappa and lots of jazz.

There is links with musicians in the North East who have played with known musicians, some are a bit tenuous but others are more legit. I’d point out that my own links to anyone well known where more tenuous than legit, but I did cross paths with people like Gerry Richardson and Ronnie Pearson who were in Last Exit with Sting when he lived up here in the ‘70s.

Gerrie was an organ player and went onto teach music at Newcastle College then The Sage Gateshead. Ronnie was the drummer and went on to have a drum shop in Newcastle. I met them and played in bands a few times with Gerry and worked with Ronnie’s son who also had a drum shop.

Although I doubt Gerry remembers me now as a lot of jazz gigs were thrown together and you would meet loads of other musicians that would lead to getting gigs. It would often be –  ‘We need a drummer next week, can you do it?’

GOING LIVE

I was in loads of bands over the years playing jazz. When it first opened the Sunderland Glass Centre had a posh restaurant and on a Friday and Saturday they would have a trio playing in the corner – I was the drummer from time to time, that’s where I met Gerry.

When I first started playing jazz gigs after my music degree in the late ‘90s there wasn’t an easy way to find out what was going on, then there was a guy called Lance Liddle from South Tyneside who started a Jazz blog. He would review gigs, then add what was coming up.

There was a number of venues in Newcastle like the Jazz Café run by Keith Crombie, there was The Bridge Hotel, and a pub called Beamish Mary, we played those venues a lot. I was also playing in a bluesy rock band at the time, plus doing corporate gigs in places like Edinburgh and Birmingham.

Then a few gigs for the Royal Television Society awards dinner at The Sage. They were a bit surreal as you’d be playing when Aled Jones or Reeves & Mortimer come up on stage to get an award (laughs).

The Customs House Big Band

BIG BRASS SOUND

Through those bands I ended up at South Shields Customs House in the late ‘90s playing in the Big Band which was first put together by Joe Peterson (Community Arts Officer) and first ran by Tommy Moran, then Keith Robinson when I was there. We’d have a rehearsal once a week then go for a drink in The Steamboat. I met my wife at that time – Elaine was a saxophone player.

Most of the time I spent learning how to be a good musician but not spending time out hustling getting gigs, I was waiting for people to call me. I’d get a message to go to Harrogate on a New Year’s Eve and if you done well one of the musicians would recommend me to another gig.

In those jazz gigs you’re playing a fairly standard set rather like rock covers doing Hendrix, even if you haven’t worked it out note for note you know how they go. A lot of musicians have a back catalogue of songs in there (points to head) that they can play.

THAT’S THE TONIC

I did play a lot of gigs where it was written out and as a decent enough music reader I got through. You learn a lot of improvisation and skills on some gigs. One time I got a call off a bass player who I regularly worked with, ‘Can you do a gig in North Allerton with an American keyboard player called Dave Keys’. ‘Yes sounds good’ I said.

He directed the songs, all his, all original, you really had to pay attention and follow his lead. He’d say things like ‘This is a shuffle and a couple of stops, I’ll nod my head at the stop’ those sorts of things you know, directing the song as its being played – in front of the audience (laughs).

But music has common phrases and chord progressions that come up time and time again and you can work through it. I enjoyed the buzz of jazz and improvisation, the not knowing keeps it fresh. There is a saying ‘It’s never the same way once, never mind twice’ (laughs).

Drumming on stage with Tony Bengtsson.

THE MARKET

You’ve got to work on your business and I did eventually take control of that side of things, around 2010. What happened was I was teaching in schools, doing some private lessons, playing gigs but not earning much because I was travelling all over the place.

So I started to build up work closer to home and getting contacts, it’s the working on your business, not just in it, that was needed. Lately in music I’ve played on an album with singer/songwriter Tony Bengtson, he plays a folk, country, Americana style, he’s a really good player and maybe not getting as much recognition as he deserves.

WATCHING THE WORLD GO ROUND

I suppose the performance aspect is a parallel between musician and politician, there may be something in the saying that ‘Politics is showbusiness for ugly people’. It wasn’t in the family at all, my parents took an interest in, but weren’t active in politics.

When I was a kid we lived in the States for a year and on a basic level I became aware of the American history, like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, the  Civil Rights movement, and as I got older I took an interest in current affairs and politics.

I remember being a student in Leeds watching TV shows Spitting Image and Have I Got News For You and then the 1997 election and Tony Blair getting in, a real air of optimism after the Thatcher decade. I’d always listen to Talk radio and listened to the political commentators, watched Question Time, but always observing not taking part.

Around 2010 when I was in a bookshop in Newcastle I picked up a copy of one of Tony Benn’s diaries, then read other volumes and thought, well there’s more important things going on in the world than drums.

With Green’s Deputy Leader, Amelia Womack in South Shields.

GO GREEN

A musician friend who I mentioned earlier, Tony Bengston, was standing as a Green candidate. I wondered what was going on and I wasn’t happy about how things were going under the coalition plus not being enamoured about The Labour Party so I looked at the Green Party and found they weren’t just a one issue party. Actually they were somebody I could connect with and feel more comfortable with, so I joined in 2014.

We’d done a beach litter pick and it felt good to do this in South Shields with nice people, but importantly it was a tangible thing to do, a contribution to improving the area. Then within weeks we were out on the streets knocking on doors. Not long after an opportunity arose to meet the Green’s Deputy Leader Amelia Womack when she came to South Tyneside – the result was I got more involved.

I got elected a few years ago then a few more candidates followed so we aren’t looked upon as the party in South Tyneside who have no chance. Labour has a long history in this town and some responses on the doorstep are ‘I’ve always voted Labour and not interested in anyone else’. Which is fair enough, I get that.

In the council chamber, Town Hall, South Shields.

I HEAR YOU KNOCKING

I’ve only had experience of knocking on doors for the Greens so don’t know what it’s like for everyone else but when I first started in this area (Beacon & Bents, South Shields), a lot of people weren’t sure who we were, some people thought we were the same as Greenpeace. At first we’d hear on the doorstep ‘Are you all about saving the whales?’

Some people aren’t interested, or are watching TV, or got the dinner on, but generally people are really nice and give you a bit time even when they don’t agree with you. Then it got to the stage when people knew of what we were doing, they’d see or hear us working with people and trying to improve the local area.

It surprised me how favourable the response was becoming when people got to know us, and even if they don’t want to talk to you they are still civil about it. You aren’t going to please all the people.

I remember the worst reaction I had was when someone answered the door and he was trying to be polite and his other half was upstairs shouting ‘Just tell him to f*** off’. I’m glad I wasn’t face to face with her – he just looked a bit embarrassed (laughs).

A lot of people just want to talk to you if they have an issue with fly tipping in their back lane or sorting out wonky pavements in the street. They want to talk to somebody who can go away and get something done.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  August 2021

A TYNESIDE HERITAGE – new book by author, Peter S. Chapman

Cleadon born Chapman has enjoyed a varied career – educated to Master’s degree level leading to a housing career in London. He’s devoted time to being chair of a number of charities – manuscript restoration in Egypt, Archaeology & Anthropology in Cambridge and even found time for a local youth football team – The Kensington Dragons.

But Chapman, who lives in London, still retains close links to the North East…

The South Shields Local History Group invited me to give a lecture on the lives and public service of my grandparents, Sir Robert and Lady Chapman. It was their lives, and their exceptional contribution to South Shields and Tyneside, which inspired me to write ‘A Tyneside Heritage’.

It was quite an undertaking and took me six years. My research into family and Tyneside history was fresh in my mind and if I didn’t write the book now it would never get written.

Summer fetes at the Chapman home, Undercliff, were popular events throughout the 1930s.

As a teenager I became fascinated by my grandparents’ collection of scrapbooks at Undercliff, their house in Cleadon where I was born. These scrapbooks recorded family events over three decades from the 1930s, and some newspaper articles covered events in early nineteenth century Tyneside.

The 424 page book weaves the Chapman family story with local history. He features the boom on Tyneside of the industrial revolution and the bust that followed culminating with the Jarrow March of 1936 and Ellen Wilkinson MP taking the Jarrow platform in one of her speeches “The unemployment rate was over 80 per cent, 23,000 are on relief out of a total population of 35,000”.

With his family heavily involved in local politics I mentioned to Peter about my Great Uncle Richard Ewart who, after working at Whitburn Colliery, was Sunderland MP in 1945.

He and my grandfather would have known each other on the South Shields Borough Council in the late 1930s.
My Grandfather was Col Sir Robert Chapman (1880-1963), at the time of the First World War he was Major Robert Chapman. He became a South Shields Borough Councillor, MP for Houghton-le-Spring 1931-1935 and Chairman of the Team Valley Trading Estate. He had numerous business and charity directorships and chairmanships.

Richard Ewart’s life, including at Parliament, was extremely interesting to read about, and there would have been numerous Parliamentary bills on which he would have brought his ‘real life’ experience to bear – no full time professional politicians in those days.

He would have been in good company in the House of Commons, with many former miners representing County Durham constituencies, including Jack (later Lord) Lawson at Chester-le-Street and Bill (later Lord) Blyton at Houghton-le-Spring. Both feature in my book, which has a good index.

Outside Undercliff July 1941, left to right: Col Robert Chapman, Major Robin Chapman & wife Barbara, Helene Chapman, Nicholas Chapman. (pic. James Cleet)

Chapman features the invaluable work of South Shields historian & photographer Miss Amy Flagg (1896-1965), who I made a documentary about in 2016.

Yes I watched it, a really good film, and Amy Flagg’s history writings and World War Two photos feature in my book I am very pleased to say. When researching the book I also came across some unusual stories including the one about new potatoes during the Battle of the Somme, in World War One.

Food rations were basic during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Major Robert Chapman told his junior artillery officers that a field of potatoes had been discovered nearby. Under the pretext of searching for a ‘forward observation post’ they dug them up and enjoyed their first new potatoes since leaving England eighteen months earlier. 

Are you working on any other projects?

I have one or two ideas for future projects. Meanwhile I am writing articles and am busy preparing for upcoming lectures and events.

I have already had what my wife Joan and I called a ‘book warming’ party for ‘A Tyneside Heritage’ in London. However, the focus of book events will be in the North East with a launch in the afternoon of October 20 at a venue to be confirmed.

A talk has been arranged in Sunderland at 2.30pm on Monday 18 October during Sunderland Libraries Literature Festival and a talk at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle at 6.00pm on Thursday 21 October. 

The cover price for the book, published by History Press, is £25. Peter Chapman is offering it to followers and their friends in the UK for £15 including package and postage (payable on delivery).

If you live overseas contact Peter for a p&p quote.

email: peterschapman@chapmanlondon.com or

write to: 53 Highlever Road, London W10 6PR.

Provide your full name and postal address. Peter will send the invoice with the book.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  August 2021

LIFE IN COLOUR – with Sheila Graber at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery

An exhibition is being held in South Shields to celebrate the 81 years of inspirational art and animation of Sheila Graber. I asked Sheila how the exhibition came about ?

I was invited by Geoff Woodward, Museum Curator at Tyne & Wear Museum to start planning the show in 2017 with an aim to celebrating 80 years of ‘Making’ – Drawing, Painting, Animating and Teaching, an exhibition to fill Shields Museum in May 2020. However COVID had other ideas.

Thanks to this, the show has gained in power as I think now everyone knows the importance of making things to ‘help pass the time’  and stop them going crackers.

It is great for me to see it is attracting all ages from my cousin Malcolm 90 year old who, being an ex-Chief Engineer, liked the view of the Industrial River Tyne I painted in 1970, to little Amelia aged 3, who loved spotting Cats knitted by my friend Jen in the ‘Quizicat Trail’ and gained a prize and hi-five from me and QC.

The show is unusual in that it covers not only my own work but that of over 30 ex-pupils – now in their 60’s, and in turn, work by up to five generations of pupils or families. I have been looking in most Fridays from 12 to 3pm and it has been brilliant to meet up with some of them and see how they are still enjoying making today. 

Everyone has a life-story to tell – it’s just by lucky chance I happened to have illustrated mine as I lived it. So the paintings, drawings and videos of Shields and Shields people, is also bringing in a wide range of folks from all walks of life. 

I hoped that this show might spark off memories for others about their life and work – I am very pleased to see it is doing just that. Why not come along and see what memories it sparks for you.

Sheila from Shields exhibition runs to October 30th 2021.

Check out Sheila’s work on the official website:
http://www.sheilagraberanimation.com/SSCRAINBOW/

Interview by Gary Alikivi   August 2021

SHEILA from SHIELDS #2 – Exhibition at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery

An exhibition is being held in South Shields to celebrate the 81 years of inspirational art and animation of Sheila Graber. Invited to the exhibition was former pupil Allyson Stewart.

‘Sheila was my art teacher at the Grammar school and when I first went into the class I was thinking I don’t know what I’m doing here. I can’t draw, I can’t paint, but over a period of weeks I think it was the way Sheila was teaching us without it feeling like she was teaching us’.

‘And I began to realise it wasn’t about how well you can paint it’s more about how you can be creative. When I started to learn about perspective that’s when it kicked in for me, I suddenly realised I could draw street scenes and buildings that actually looked like a building’.

‘That was quite a revelation and since then I’ve done a few bits and pieces that have been done with pen and ink, that’s my favourite medium. I can’t paint I’m useless with a paint brush, but with pen and ink it just feels right to me’.

‘But then I joined Sheila’s Cine Animation group and that was great, something completely different at the time at the Grammar school it was pretty radical. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. That taught me all about timing, getting things right and putting them in the right order, keeping accurate records. I gather that the animation film that I made is now on You Tube thanks to Sheila – so hopefully I can live that down’.

‘First person that taught me that anything was possible was a teacher called Stan Coates at Stanhope Juniors.  The last thing he ever said to me when I left school was I expect to see your name in writing someday young lady. And then nothing ever fired me up until Sheila was teaching me. And she taught me you haven’t got to be a brilliant painter, you haven’t got to be a great designer, you haven’t got to know how to structure a painting, it’s all about how you feel and how you can interpret it’.

‘And that was a revelation to me and I think that’s what rekindled the spark that you don’t have to paint you can write. You can find a creative outlet some other way, and that was really helpful for me. Now I’m back into doing the writing, loving every minute, so thanks to Stan and thanks to Sheila I’m loving every minute, I’m living the life and love it’.

Also invited to the exhibition was writer and retired Shields Gazette journalist, Janis Blower, who started off with a piece of poetry by James Henry Lee Hunt.

Abou Ben Adhem may his tribe increase, awoke one night from a deep dream of peace.

And saw within the moonlight in his room, making it rich and like a lily in bloom,

An angel writing in a book of gold.

‘I have a love of angels as they are depicted in art and stained glass, and also in one of the loves of my creativity – which has been sewing. The angels started with my oldest sister Pam, who we lost in 2019 unfortunately. As a child I used to share a bed with her in the attic bedroom. I was frightened of the dark so to comfort me she would sing songs and recite poems that she’d learned at school’.

‘One of the poems was Abuben Adden and that image of the angel writing in his book of gold really seized my imagination. The words seemed to come off the page already burnished and glowing and that struck me as the writer I’ve become – the power of words’.

‘Angels has become a favourite motif too stitch, I’ve had a lifelong love of sewing and embroidery going all the way back to the days when I first made a tea tray cloth at Ocean Road school when I was aged about 8 or 9 which I still have to this day. It was the start of a lifelong love of sewing, embroidery and cross stich which has been a great comfort at times over the years’.

‘I’ve known Sheila for many years because she actually taught me art when I was a pupil at South Shields Girl’s Grammar School. I remember very vividly her enthusiasm and her belief that anybody could be creative. I’m not sure that I believed it at the time, but I’ve come to realise that it’s true, and it’s something you pick up from this wonderful exhibition that she has of her life and art.

The message being that there is creativity in everybody if you know where to look for it’.

The exhibition runs from 17 May – 30 October 2021

Interviews by Gary Alikivi  2021

SHEILA from SHIELDS – Exhibition at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery

An exhibition is being held in South Shields to celebrate 81 years of inspirational art and animation of Sheila Graber. Invited to open the exhibition was Pam Royle, Tyne Tees newsreader for more than 30 years. I caught up with Pam who told me how she first met Sheila.

‘I first met Sheila when she was doing some animation work for Tyne Tees Television in the 1980’s and we’ve been firm friends since. I’ve always admired Sheila’s work from animation to illustrations to absolutely everything she does and the fact she teaches it with such patience and wisdom’.

‘Sheila has also met some members of my family. We’ve always been quite creative in my family, just love expressing ourselves through paintings, drawings, Sheila met my son when he was about 8 and he drew some things for her. Basically things like machinery, cars, tractors, aeroplanes that sort of thing. And then he went on to work in the countryside and on the land.

Sheila said it’s really interesting because what happens when you are young you draw things that have a relevance to your later life because you draw what you are passionate about’.

‘I think this exhibition reveals that art is so important to all our lives, it’s a way of expressing ourselves, it’s a connection with your soul and your mind. I just think this exhibition is fantastic and I’m so grateful that Sheila asked me and my family to be a part of it’.

Also invited to the exhibition to record a quick video message and talk about why she loves art so much was South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck.

‘Art is so universal no matter where you are in the world no matter what language you speak it always can send a message to you and speak to you. Some of my favourite types of art are the religious ones. Like Caravaggio where you can spend absolutely hours and just get lost in all of the detail.

Also I’m here to look at Sheila’s exhibition. Sheila Graber is a great friend of mine, a local legend, so please if you have an opportunity get yourself down here to have a look you won’t regret it’.

At the exhibition opening was Ray Spencer MBE, Director of the Customs House, South Shields. He talked about his first experience of art.

‘When I was a kid about the only art I saw was in museums or books, in books they were only little plates. I used to look at these fantastic portraits, landscapes and seascapes, but they were just little plates. If you went into museums you saw big plates or the originals’.

‘When I done my degree I went to the Louvre in Paris and it was the first time I walked into a room and seen the works of Delacroix and El Greco. I went to Amsterdam and saw Rembrandts – these huge massive things.

I was so excited so fantastically elated seeing something I couldn’t comprehend from those little books. That’s what I‘ve wanted to do all my time in culture to make people feel as excited as I did in the Louvre. Sheila has done that throughout her life’.

‘You look through this exhibition and you see how many lifelong friends she’s had, how many people she has influenced, not just to go professionally into the arts, but to always love and appreciate the arts’.

‘She has this enormous capacity to be interested in everybody, to light a flame in everybody to get involved in the arts. And importantly to believe in their creativity, not to be measured by somebody else’s creativity but to believe in your own creativity and to know what you do is important’.

‘That is something that we will all be thankful to Sheila for, for the hundreds and thousands of people that she has engaged with the arts’.   

The exhibition at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery runs from 17 May – 30 October 2021

For more info check the official website:

http://www.sheilagraberanimation.com/SSCRAINBOW/

Interviews by Gary Alikivi  2021

GOOD OLD TYNESIDE with Local History Collector, Norman Dunn

77 year old Norman from Hebburn, who started work as a fitter at Wardley & Follonsby Collieries in the ‘60s, has been collecting Tyneside photographs and postcards for over 20 year.

I started collecting because I asked my old aunt if she had any old photos and she said ‘We had a lot of photos, but when we moved to a new Council house, we just binned them’. How many other families did that when they moved home, not realising the value of a photo ?’

‘Over the years I’ve helped three authors with photos for their books, and I’ve often sent photos to be used in the Shields Gazette and Evening Chronicle. Now it’s my time to publish, but not just one book – I’ve published four’.

‘I’ve wanted to compile this set of books whilst my enthusiasm and memory is still good. I’ve always been interested in local history that’s why I decided to compile the photo’s into books’ explained Norman.

Tram and St Mary’s Church, Heworth.

A number of years ago I volunteered on a South Shields Library project digitizing thousands of photographs from their archive, so recognise some of the images.

Photographers Amy Flagg, James Cleet and William Emmett done an excellent job capturing Tyneside images and left behind a marvellous legacy.

A glaring omission in this book is apart from Dunn’s family photos, no photographer’s names are credited or where they were obtained originally. South Tyneside Council hold a lot of the original images and are available to view on their official website. https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

St Oswalds Church, Hebburn c.1900

‘I’ve collected photos for many years but unfortunately never kept a list of people who loaned me them. I just want to share them with people’ said Norman.

‘I always told my contributors that their photos are valuable. They want to share their photos with others, and often said ‘what use is a photo stuck in a drawer under the bed or in a cupboard’.

‘If they sell I might do another set of books. So far I’ve had marvellous feedback from people who’ve already bought books. They all said fantastic value with so many photos in it’.

‘Good Old Shields’, ‘Good old Hebburn’, ‘Good old Jarrow’ & ‘Good old Bill Quay, Pelaw, Wardley, Felling & Heworth’ are priced at £15 each plus £3 p&p.

To buy a copy contact Norman on  07958 120 972  or email norman@dunn247.co.uk 

Interview by Gary Alikivi   June 2021

Snapshot of Tyneside born Film Director John Irvin

Recently watched TV mini-series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and was gripped by its suspense, sharp script and deadly silences. The show had a gritty, claustrophobic look and used shadows to ramp up the pressure.

Shot on old (1979) TV sized 4:3 format, the tight camera angles had no flabby interior widescreen shots. Rather than just watching a scene happen you were brought into the film, making a closer connection to the characters who weaved in and out of the programme.

Office meetings were held where another piece of the jigsaw was revealed, and this old boys network was tearing itself apart looking for the mole. As the credits rolled I noticed the director was John Irvin.

Around 2000 I went to the basement theatre in Central Library, South Shields, for a talk by film director John Irvin, who was born in 1940. A search on Ancestry doesn’t reveal the exact town, but in interview on You Tube, Irvin refers to himself as a Geordie.

South Shields residents may recognise the name as his brother had an estate agents shop near the Town Hall – Finn & Irvin. That’s where I bought my ticket for only a couple of quid – we all like a bargain. And it was.

Before he went on stage John was greeting people in the foyer, a striking six foot figure in a smart black overcoat, pink shirt and grey wavy slicked back hair. In front of the audience John talked about his career starting in TV in ‘60s London, then Hollywood came calling where he directed over 30 films.

He finished off by telling a story about a film he directed with actor Harvey Keitel. They were about to film a difficult scene so to relax the actors John told Harvey to do something he doesn’t usually do. ‘Yes, but only if you do something’, replied Harvey as he danced awkwardly in front of all the film crew. Next was John’s turn and he started to sing. The song ? Blaydon Races.

I’ve pulled some information and highlights from various on-line sources about his career with some big names starring in his movies.      

                                                                                  

Scene from The Dogs of War (1980) with Christopher Walken.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 1979 TV 7 episodes with Alec Guinness, Hywell Bennett, Beryl Reid.

The Dogs of War 1980 film with Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger.

Ghost Story 1981 film with Fed Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr.

Champions 1984 film with John Hurt.

Hamburger Hill 1987 film with Don Cheadle, Michael Boatman.

Next of Kin 1989 film with Liam Neeson, Patrick Swayze.

A Month by the Lake 1994 film with Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Fox, Uma Thurman.

City of Industry 1997 film with Harvey Keitel, Stephen Dorff.

Shiner 2000 film with Michael Caine.

The Garden of Eden film 2008 with Mena Suvari, Richard E. Grant.

Gary Alikivi   June 2021

COUNTY DURHAM DREAM with South Shields born singer & songwriter Vinny Edwards

Vincent Edwards.

From his home in Germany, Edwards recently got in touch and talked about his career in the music biz. Earlier posts have featured his 1976 chart hit Right Back Where We Started From and his smash in Europe Love Hit Me.

Vinny was brought up in the seaside town of South Shields where he listened to the ‘60s sounds of Sam Cooke before he joined his first band The Invictors. Then he joined The Answers who recorded two singles and were managed by Tony Stratton Smith.

‘Just after The Answers parted, amicably I might add, United Artists record company signed me and I went into a studio in Tin Pan Alley, London and recorded the track ‘County Durham Dream’, that was 1967. In fact it was the first song I wrote when I left South Shields, it reminds me as a kid every day at Shields beach looking out to sea – still makes me emotional’.

’Recording in the studio on drums we had the great Clem Cattini, on guitar was Big Jim Sullivan who later played with Elvis. Loved that time. You know ‘County Durham Dream’ achieved everything I wanted – it opened lots of doors and most of all let me know where I come from, still does now’.

The choice for the b-side ‘It’s the Same Old Song’ was written by Holland/Dozier/Holland. During the ‘60s they were the masters of Motown who wrote classics recorded by Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas and The Four Tops to name a few.

‘This led me to the next single which was ‘Aquarius’. That record was also on United Artists and I got a contract to open the musical ‘Hair’ at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London’.

Hair is a musical focusing on the long haired hippie culture and sexual revolution of the late ‘60s. The focus is a tribe of politically active hippies living a bohemian lifestyle in New York City fighting against conscription to the US army and the Vietnam war. The show has been staged worldwide with a Broadway revival in 2009, a West End revival in 2010 and in 2019 the production staged a UK tour.

‘That 18 month run was the greatest time of my life. There was Paul Nicholas, Elaine Page, Maxine Nightingale – who sang my hit, ‘Right Back Where We Started From’. Tim Curry was in with Olivier Tobias, Marsha Hunt, Sonja Christina and many more’.

‘I remember the opening night like it was yesterday – I danced with Princess Anne on stage. Yeah ‘Hair’ led to more show biz doors opening as a performer, writer and record producer. It’s still performed around the world today. Check it out on You Tube’.

Link to previous interviews:

RUN TO THE SUN with South Shields born singer & songwriter Vincent Edwards | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2021

FRINGE BENEFITS with North East actor & writer Wayne Miller

Really when I was young I wanted to be a stuntman. I was a huge fan of Jackie Chan. I watched every martial arts film, Bruce Lee, the lot. I thought acting would help me to be a stuntman because a lot of Asian stars are actors and martial artists.

So at school I got into acting on stage, but when I got further into it, it just felt right, natural really, it was never hard work. Playing guitar was harder work but acting definitely came easier and it helps a lot playing someone else and forgetting my day to day worries.

GUNNER MILLER

I first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1998 on a three week run with a show called The Machine Gunners. That was at the end of our year in drama with South Tyneside College. While we were up there we saw a few shows some were in venues the size of a cupboard.

It’s like Russian roulette you might get one gem from five shows. Some have gone on to be professionally produced like Jerry Springer the Opera, I saw Six the musical which transferred to the West End, it’s on a UK tour this year.

It’s a testing ground for shows, some people think they’re going to make money, but you’re a fool if you think you can – if you do it’s a bonus. The best thing is test your work out, get some reviews, draw up some interest, and if you have a tour planned use it as a springboard. You might be lucky if a promoter spots it and comes onboard to produce it.

CALL TIME

You aren’t going to please everyone. If you’ve sold tickets and people come back you’ve done a good job. One critic can give you a good review, the next doesn’t. That’s just the nature of the business.

It’s the hardest slog doing the entire month of August because you are competing against thousands of shows, it’s a big competition fighting to get people in. You get in 5-10 minutes before showtime, get all your props in place, costumes on… then bang, on the button, perform, take yer bows. At the end you’ve got 5 minutes to get out the building. Some companies have three shows on so they have to scoot over the other side of Edinburgh to do a show.

Just knowing you have done that slog is a proud thing and to have it on your posters and sometimes share a stage with well-known companies. After Edinburgh we brought The Machine Gunners back to South Shields and sold out The Customs House theatre for a few nights.

A few days after that show I went down south for a year to Maidenhead drama school, it didn’t do a lot for me if I’m honest. I wanted to improve my voice and movement but the majority was learning and reciting monologues. It wasn’t really working for me and while down there I was receiving offers of work, one being Wearside Jack for ITV.

WEARSIDE JACK

Someone at Tyne Tees saw me in a play and passed on my contact to Sheila Matheson, I think it was. At first I thought it was a wind up (laughs). I mean Wearside Jack I thought he was a lot older than me and really everyone didn’t know that much about him.

It wasn’t until we met that I got to know more about what the production team thought he was like. They said he might have been someone working away on the lorries with Sutcliffe. I grew a beard to look a bit older and he did have a Wearside accent. There was so many possibilities, one of the theories was that there was two people involved. We had various storylines for him.

We filmed a few scenes in Sunderland, then over in North Shields Fish Quay because there was witnesses that said they had seen Sutcliffe there. One woman in a café near the quay said she had seen Sutcliffe talking to a guy with a North East accent. We also filmed a version where he was a loner, where he just wanted to attach himself to something, make him feel like a somebody.

We put it out later at night after the 10.30pm Tyne Tees news, and they broadcast an ITV Real Crimes version. We done the same on a programme about a murderer called Billy Dunlop and that focused on the double jeopardy law which was looking to get changed at the time.

This guy had killed his girlfriend, got arrested, went to trial and he was found not guilty. Later he confessed to it but couldn’t be tried again for the same crime, that was the double jeopardy law. Living those roles was hard, I got to meet the family in the Dunlop case during filming, I was worried about that. To get to know that story and everything around it was hard.

Yeh for a few years I was the go to man to be North East killers. I was getting dodgy looks on the bus from old ladies – they looked over but couldn’t place me, they knew they had seen my face but not sure where, they’d nudge their mate or shuffle away. I thought not to get typecast I’ll have to go to panto land and make people laugh.

BOILIN’ STOTTS

Then it was the North East plays by Boyle Yer Stotts, me and the lads had this theatre company and we were putting our own shows on – Beer Monsters, Pray for Rain, a few others. But it was hard surviving then, paying the bills. I was also playing rhythm guitar in a few bands – Shake Yer Tailfeather, MG’s and Cookin’ On Gas. The music thing was great at first but at the end it got a bit pressurised.

Really at first it was a bunch of mates getting together playing music and I didn’t want to get in the situation of having to gig a certain amount of times a week. A friend, Michael McNally was running a Government programme called New Deal for Musicians which helped in between gigs and I done a few pantos so that sort of kept me going. (interview with Michael McNally August 2018)

Cookin On Gas played the workingmen clubs, the whole circuit. Sometimes we’d strip back the numbers because in Shake Yer Tailfeather there was eleven in the band so we hardly played pubs, we done more one off clubs, theatre venues, private shows and corporates.

That lasted until the mid-2000’s when it started to get thin so I began writing and directing stuff at The Customs House. I knew panto inside out so I wrote some of that and added in some stuff for a children’s show that sort of came easy to me.

SCHOOLS OUT

I proposed some school holiday shows to The Customs House, they welcomed the idea so I wrote and directed shows for kids. Parents will always put their hand in their pocket for their kids to do something or go places rather than for themselves. It was steady at first then eventually I was getting a full diary of work.

I prefer writing now because I feel less pressure, I write in my own time where if I’m acting I have to learn a script by a certain time, act at a certain time – I’m up against the clock and if I’m producing a show I have to oversee every part.

CARRY ON COVID

We set up Walton-Gunn productions last year to produce pantos and do some new writing where we can take a risk with shows that might not make any money but are balanced out with panto profit. Last March we played our first show and at midnight everything was locked down for Covid, so we only did one show in the run, but now we’ve just announced we have a panto season starting.

We have our adult panto Dickless Whittington – bringing back the filth. In the show is Kylie Ann Ford, Jen Normandale,  Steven Stobbs and Megan Robson. I’m a huge Carry On fan, absolutely love them. I was a huge Sid James fan when I was a kid, yeah Carry On films were panto, the bawdy humour and jokes (laughs).

Then it’s Sleeping Beauty in August and Wendy the Witch in October. These things like everybody else will be in jeopardy if we are back in lockdown so we’ll see how it goes.

GANGSTER STYLE

In October my play The Big Time is on in North Shields Exchange and then in London where it’s playing in a fringe pub with a pub downstairs and the gig upstairs with the seating and small stage. The Big Time was originally put on in Edinburgh Fringe 2018 where it sold well and got good reviews. I wrote it back in 2013 so it’s good it still has life in it. You always look for that in a play.

The Big Time is about two wannabee gangsters who want to get into a criminal organisation so they agree to kidnap someone but end up taking the wrong girl. They take her to a hut in the middle of nowhere and the gangsters turn up and see it’s the wrong girl. It’s a criminal farce all set in one place and the story is how are they going to get out of it.

Being set in one hut in real time it isn’t restricted about when or where its shown. At it’s core it is so basic you aren’t restricted by any scene changes, it’s just pure dialogue. The plan is to put it on with its sequel – The Big Goodbye– as a double header.

The goal and sign of achievement for a show is for it to last and be brought back time and time again and this one has done really well in that sense.

Adult Panto Dickless Whittington – 8.30pm 11-13 June 2021 at Armstrongs Bar, South Shields

Tickets £12 from ticketsource.co.uk/walton gunn

The Big Time – 8pm 2 October 2021 at Exchange Building, North Shields.

Tickets £10 from the venue. Tel: 0191 258 4111

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2021