CRACK ON with North East comedian Gavin Webster

The first comic I heard that brought on huge belly laughs was Richard Pryor when I watched the video of his 1979 live show from Long Beach, California. I mentioned this to Gavin when I met him in Newcastle’s Centurion bar.

I met his daughter after a show for multiple sclerosis, that’s what he died of. I asked her about his films and other work, and yes she was a nice woman. She does all the legacy stuff like Keith Thompson does for Bobby Thompson – there’s always one child who keeps it going with all the memorabilia.

Richard Pryor.

SCHOOLS OUT

When I was at school I was quite withdrawn, sometimes I’d open up but only to people I knew well. I wasn’t the class clown. My family are probably on the spectrum of autism, back in the day you were called eccentrics. My mother was involved in amateur dramatics and sang in choirs in Blaydon where I was brought up during the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s living on a council estate you went to these types of societies in working class areas. It was post war coming out of austerity and getting some hobbies to colour your life. People were too busy with their different clubs to have a popular uprising or revolution like in Russia. There was plenty sporting clubs, and things like the Welsh speaking society.

Here we are next to the Lit and Phil in Newcastle (Literary & Philosophical Society) and it’s not full of hoity toitys, our obsession to be part of clubs and getting together stops us from taking up arms.

GENERATIONS

Stand up is the loneliest job – you’re on stage with just a microphone, and when I started people were shouting ‘Tell us a joke’ but you don’t really get that now and nobody says ‘I can’t understand these comedians now, they don’t tell jokes anymore, it’s all stories’. That’s all changed, we’ve moved on.

We’re both old enough to know a generation of people before popular music. They weren’t appalled by rap or punk, they were shocked by rock n roll. But where’s the rebellious phase now ? The Sex Pistols are over 65 – the games up.

CRACK ON

When I stumbled into this in the early ‘90s it was called Alternative Comedy so I missed out the working men’s club circuit. A friend of mine, Les Stewart took me to The Cumberland Arms in Byker in 1992 on a night called The Crack club. Tyne Tees TV were filming a documentary there. Ross Noble was doing one of his first gigs, Tony Mendoza and a few others were on. At the end of the night Les said ‘Right we’re doing this next month as a double act’.

I wasn’t sure at all but he gave me all the straight man lines to his funnies. I thought it was terrible. We were called Scarborough and Thick, like Morecambe and Wise. We ended up doing it a few times, I wasn’t keen. But we ended up doing our own night at The Barley Mow in Gateshead and I had my own 5 minutes. There was a buzz for the whole scene.

A year later Les drifted out and I reverted back to my own name and done a few more shows. It was a lot of North East gigs but you’d meet other acts from Manchester, Glasgow or Cardiff who’d pass on numbers of promoters for different venues around the country. There’d be a few opportunities and they’d lead to ringing up clubs in London. Really it was much more innocent then cos there was only 40 comics in the whole country.

ACROSS THE BORDER

When I first went to London people called you Northern, but sometimes we can be arrogant thinking everybody should know where Geordies come from. But they see you as generically Northern. For a long time people thought Newcastle was in Scotland. It’s more of a distinction now with Ant and Dec on the telly.

In 1995 I done a talent show in The Guilded Balloon in Edinburgh called ‘So You Think You’re Funny’. The organiser wanted regional heats to make it more like a proper national competition. She got me in this heat by practically twisting my arm but I didn’t get through in the end, so I thought that’s it I ‘ve had a good couple of years I’m not going to be a comic now.

The winner of our heat was Johnny Vegas (Benidorm) and the overall winner was Lee Mac (Not Going Out, Would I Lie to You). I since heard that the little competition in 1995, had by 2012 over 45,000 applications. There was preliminary heats, regional heats and eventually whittled down to semi-finals in Edinburgh and the big final. So what’s happened in society for those numbers to change ? Is it just a nice career option ?

In the North East you sometimes need a few strings to your bow to work in entertainment but on TV I don’t want to see stand-up comics presenting cookery shows. I think surely that’s not what you got into this for ?

You can just have a great Edinburgh which can lead to a BBC TV show which can be down to good marketing and hype or having a bit of good luck – or bad. Some people have got the confidence, they can make it sound like they have invented something when they didn’t – history is written by the winners as they say.

It’s the ones who can capture the imagination of the British public, not necessarily the ones that are the most original. There are loads of examples in popular culture, music and art.

NEW YORK TERROR ATTACKS 2001

I think from what I remember I worked on the Wednesday (the next night) after 9/11. It was at Manchester Comedy Store and it was for a topical satire show ironically enough.

The whole show with about five of us on the bill wasn’t so much a humorous take on the week’s news like it was every week previous for the past two years, rather it was a fairly sombre night wondering whether the world as we knew it would be intact by next week.

It was more surreal than very sad but it did have a dark cloud hanging over it and was like no other gig I’ve done before or since.

SHOW MUST GO ON

I’ve got a show at the Tyne Theatre in November, I’ve done a few for them before in the venue. I’m working on it now, nothings finalised for it, could be great – or a disaster. I’m working on new stuff and you can’t not mention what’s happened over the last 15 months it would be absurd to not talk about what’s gone on.

I’ll just talk about how its been for me you can’t pretend to get angry or tell it how it is because I’m not that type of person – you’ve just got to do your take on it.

Tickets available from Tyne Theatre & Opera House NOW for 12th November 2021.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2021

WAVIS O’SHAVE THE SOCCER LEGEND ? NOT QUITE.

It’s hard to get away from football as the end of season covid infected games have been pumped out every night on the telly. Newcastle United finish mid table after another season of zero ambition under owner Mike Ashley. Times up Mike.

He needs to delete any connection with the football team, hopefully, new owners are waiting in the wings.

Last week I received an email from Wavis O’Shave who remembered better times for the club. Back in the ’80s Wavis released singles, an album and appeared on live music show The Tube, but before that he was a regular at St James’ Park, home of Newcastle United…

I used to go to all their home games and I remember at the start of one season about 50 Wolves skinhead supporters made their way around the ground to try and get in the Leazes End where they would have got eaten.

At one game I asked a bloke to zip me up inside my anorak so that my arms were inside. When the game ended I couldn’t move and got carried all over the place by the packed crowd as they made their way out. All good fun.

The first game I went to was the start of the ’68 season where Newcastle beat Man City 1-0 with an early Pop Robson penalty. I’d been deciding whether to support Newcastle or Man United but as Man U lost their opening game 4-1 at home to Southampton that same afternoon, I chose Newcastle. Big mistake!

I wasn’t a great football player but I could play football great, I had been invited to a trial for Newcastle on August 23rd 1973 at their Hunters Moor training ground, as a right winger – not the political type.

Strangely, I wasn’t playing any footy that summer and every week kept saying that I’d better start to get in shape for the big day. I went down to The Dragon playing fields near the South Shields beach to have a bit of a kick about. I wasn’t in great shape!

Day of the 23rd and I’m off to Hunters Moor which I thought was nearer to St James’ than it was, so I had to run like hell on the extremely hot day to get there in time for 1.30pm. I was knackered – great preparation, eh? Then it all went surreal.

I was to play on the right wing but when they called out my name I was down for left back – defence instead of attack and wrong footed! They threw me some shin pads and wouldn’t let me play if I didn’t wear them. I’d chose never to wear pads in my life so I found myself having to stop every 10 yards to readjust them as they kept whizzing to the back of my legs.

According to some mates who came to watch and give me moral support I played a good shift with some crunching tackles. The club said they’d let you know and it was months later I got an expected thanks, but no thanks.

Now, either the buggers made a grave error in playing me out of position or fate stepped in to ensure they never have a soccer legend. Either way, they’ve won nowt since and I don’t think they ever will.

Malcolm ‘Supermac’ McDonald.

When VIZ Comic had their 20th Anniversary bash I was invited but of course didn’t go. There were a few celebs there including my footy hero Malcolm Supermac Macdonald. I’d gave my ticket to a friend who went in my place, and when he was having a piss in the bogs next to Supermac he said to him ‘So you know, Wavis?’

If they hadn’t played me left back maybe I would have played with him!

I followed the Mags until I deleted all interest in them some years back when they lost to Sunderland five times on the trot. Unacceptable behaviour so I was out!

I can’t take footy serious now it’s not a sport anymore, just stocks and shares, and you can’t take the thing serious when players earn 100k a week and behave like girls blouse pop stars. They should get themselves a decent job.

Links to previous interviews with Wavis O’Shave:

https://garyalikivi.com/2017/06/06/felt-nowt-the-world-according-to-wavis-oshave/

https://garyalikivi.com/2017/09/05/method-in-the-madness-interview-with-wavis-oshave/

 Gary Alikivi  July 2020.

 

THE MAN WHO FELL TO SHIELDS – from Tinwhistler.

Stories were recently posted about Billy Roberts who was homeless in South Shields during the ‘70s and ‘80s. (Billy’s Story Dec.13th 2019). I remember Billy hanging around the town centre, and judging by the high number of readers a lot of other folk in Shields remember him – for good or bad.

The memories were from a Shields resident going by the name Tinwhistler, recently they got in touch again telling me about another character from Shields, this guy I can’t recall, but this is Tinwhistlers story of Arthur -The Man Who Fell To Shields.

The developing crazy world of Arthur was to most of us, intriguing, humorous and somewhat bizarre. He could disappear for months then return with more tales beyond the belief of mortal man. Many of us gathered to play football on a Sunday morning on the Marine College field, then Arthur would show up.

No he hadn’t turned up after being in London playing football for Spurs then coming to sign up for his beloved Sunderland, it now looked like his soccer career had come to an end and he decided his future lay in coal, briefly at Westoe pit.

There were other characters present at these games such as Fig Roll, Hat, Egg man and a particularly good player called Wavis. Away from football, music was a passion for most of us, Arthur expressing his taste in a variety of bands and acts varying from Elvis, Stones and Conway Twitty.

Wavis had the beginnings of something that developed later but he started a combo that was a non-musical affair – The Borestiffers. It consisted of him, me and Fig Roll.

Frequent rehearsals culminated with a gig at Bolingbroke Hall in Shields. Wavis had written some good songs which were put to a non-musical backing and performed in front of a more than expected turn out, who had each paid a nominal sum for a ticket but could only gain entry if it was presented with a slice of bread as this was a charity gig for the ducks of South Marine Park.

After the gig Fig Roll left due to non-musical indifferences in order to follow a career with the Royal Mail which his mother said would keep him off the streets. Wavis’ ideas were novel and I was put on percussion involving moving most of my mother’s kitchen – pots, pans, 2 wooden spoons, tin trays, roasting trays etc.

A young person called Tube was strumming a Bullworker physical exercise apparatus and the coup de grace, Arthur. This was where we could maybe turn the world upside down because if Arthur now told people he had been up on stage in front of an audience and they didn’t believe him, it could now be proven otherwise.

Arthur was there purely as ambience and to play a board game with Tube called Mad Hats on the stage floor while I held a steady rhythm on the kitchen kit and Wavis held the front stage. Three rolls of the dice later and Arthur wanted the mic and the crowd went wild.

It is now circa 1977 and as I am working, earning and drinking, Arthur tags along buying a round every 3​rd​ or 4​th​ time. He tells me again of his prowess singing in some of the bars of Shields and he took me on my first visit to the Turks Head on the Lawe Top.

The atmosphere was warm, welcoming and we could hear the sound of people enjoying their Saturday evening. A chant started We want Arthur, we want Arthur. That was it, he motioned me to follow him through, ‘Ha’way son, I’ll have to get up they want ‘is’. Arthur referred to each of us as son and we all reciprocated by calling him Fatha!

A couple of years later Wavis had entered the music business and mentioned more than once about his fatha who was able to destroy any standards and classics. A stage name was sought and as Adam Ant was prominent Arthur settled on Teddy Anteater.

He sang along to a recorded tape, songs he knew wearing headphones. The guitar was left handed turned upside down, a Jimi Hendrix of the antimatter world. He got a couple of gigs supporting local band The Letters and then got the opportunity to hit the big time.

Wavis had contacts with a label called Anti Pop and one of their acts was Arthur 2 Stroke & The Chart Commandos. They became aware of him and had heard some of the Teddy Anteater that Wavis had played them. I arranged an introduction and accepted title of road manager. His next gig was to be with them at Newcastle University.

Their manager, Andy Inman visited me at work and I got the necessary details. The acts on the bill were formidable consisting of a talented jazz quartet, a geordie poet called Nog, a hunched back illusionist/magician who went under the name Johnny Neptune and a scantily dressed Hot Gossip type dance troupe. Teddy’s set was filmed and is now on YouTube under ‘Teddy Anteater – Newcastle University 1981’.

The brothers Viz, that is Chris and Simon Donald, were there, this before their mag went corporate. Simon was the on stage compere and Chris was selling the Viz to enthusiastic students. Both were amazed at the Teddy Anteater act, so much so that he was featured in their next issue under a heading Not many rock stars can claim to take penalties with their heads but Teddy Anteater is not many rock stars.

This was a reference to one of his many fibs regarding his footballing prowess, along with his claim that he could take a corner, get into the middle to head it and then get on the goal line to save it.

The Student Union magazine reviewed the whole show and decided that Teddy was the best act of the night. The Teddy Anteater experience really ended shortly after not before the surfacing of another bizarre act known as Jarrow Elvis. This became a road show involving names like Hebburn Cliff and Pelaw Pitney. I suggested maybe Arthur might want to join this and to do so he could learn some Roxy Music songs. He didn’t care for Roxy so that was the end of him appearing as Shields Ferry!

Another story brought to you by Tinwhistler.

Edited by Gary Alikivi     February 2020.