This year’s Great North Run is fast approaching. HELEN GILDERSLEEVE finds out some interesting facts and regales her own experiences of the iconic North East event.
It isn’t called the world’s most famous half marathon for no reason.
The run was originally devised by Tynesider and former Olympic 10,000 metre bronze medallist and BBC Sport commentator Brendan Foster. The first Great North Run which was advertised as a ‘local fun run’ began on 28 June 1981, when 12,000 runners participated.
Fast forward three decades and the number of participants had risen to 47,000 with this year’s event boasting a record 57,000 runners who will pound across the iconic Tyne Bridge to South Shields sea front.
Nothing quite prepares you for this event and it’s so much more than just ‘going for a run’. I’m about to (hopefully) complete my fifth this year and I can’t wait.
Standing at the start line and looking ahead at the sea of coloured tops and eccentric fancy dress is nothing short of amazing. How they get 57,000 people on the central motorway each year in an orderly fashion always astounds me.
Every single person has their own story for competing, and most are extremely touching. It’s hard not to get emotional seeing the huge variety of charity runners and signs on people’s vests emblazoning messages like ‘for you mum’ and ‘in memory of ….’. Each year sees millions of pounds being raised for hundreds of different charities. It’s a moment where people come as one and the atmosphere is simply magical.
Once the start gun goes off at 10.40am and the sea of runners ascend across the town flyover amidst chanting and the echoes of pounding feet, there’s no greater sight than the masses of people and shouts of support greeting you as you run across the Tyne Bridge with the Red Arrows flying overhead.
Throughout the 13.1 mile course the support from local people is astonishing; they come out in their thousands to give support and many give runners home baked goodies, biscuits and fruit to boost energy. One particularly warm year I got blasted by a child with a Super Soaker and I’ve never been more grateful.
Nothing is more welcome than the sight of the sea when you head into the last mile at South Shields, I’ve witnessed people limping, crawling, carrying one another and crying at this point.
As you bear left and run the final mile with the North Sea on your right, the finish line is in sight and all you want to do is stop/cry/collapse as you can’t feel your legs anymore, but the masses of people cheer you on and push you to the end. These people will never understand how much the runners appreciate them.
You FINALLY get to the end and as you sprint through that famous finish arch, the feeling cannot be explained. Nor can the taste of that first sip of a beer.
And it’s over for another year!
Five things you probably didn’t know about the Great North Run:
Previous runners include: former England and Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sting and Newcastle’s own TV presenters Ant & Dec.
In 2014 the 34th Great North Run had 57,000 participants and celebrated the 1 millionth runner to cross the finish line, and was the first to have a British man win in 29 years.
If all the Great North Runners stood head to toe, their combined height would be ten times the height of Mount Everest.
About 18 miles of cloth is used to make Great North Run souvenir T-shirts.
Paul Gascoigne once pushed a wheelchair athlete all the way round the Great North Run circuit.
The Great North Run2017 Newcastle upon Tyne to South Shields, takes place on Sunday 10 September. Live coverage on BBC 1 from 9.30-13.30
The Cluny: HELEN GILDERSLEEVE explores the history behind the popular Ouseburn Valley venue.
Even rare pub goers in the region will have heard of or paid a visit to The Cluny in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley. Priding itself as being one of the North East’s premium music hot spots, The Cluny has been hosting bands from across the globe since the turn of the century in 1999.
Once the home of a bottling plant for a Scotch whisky called the Cluny, this is now a post-industrial bar with separate music rooms that thinks like a pub and doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. You want an affordable, decent band night with a variety of beers and tasty pub grub (they even do chips and gravy in a baguette)? Look no further. This is the Cluny’s major USP and the reason behind its popularity across the region.
The Cluny’s raison d’être is music – from the moment you step inside the industrial brick walls are adorned with posters advertising forthcoming bands from The Monkey Junk Blues Club to Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and a 20 year anniversary celebration of Radiohead’s OK Computer, where fans and musicians come together to perform. It hosts over 400 gigs a year, all of which are well attended.
Whatever your musical taste, the Cluny is bound to have something that appeals and this is the beauty of the place- in a world full of trends and pigeonholed venues, the Cluny doesn’t have a specific clientele nor does it judge or care. I last went in wearing sports gear whilst sitting next to folk all glammed up from the races.
Artists performing here range from the known to the completely unknown and eclectic. Notable acts that have graced its stages include Mumford & Sons, Arctic Monkeys, Seasick Steve, The Futureheads, Duffy and Glasvegas. Solange Knowles, younger sister of global phenomenon Beyonce, kicked off her first UK tour here in 2008.
Pre 2009 saw the Cluny having just one music area, until a golden opportunity arose when it took over the running of the adjacent former Round Theatre, which went into liquidation in 2008. This theatre style, 160 capacity period venue was re-branded as the Cluny 2 and the rest is history.
If you’re like me and are always intrigued by the history of quirky venues like this, I did a bit of digging and discovered it is housed in a former flax spinning mill which opened in 1848. It then re-opened as a steam powered flour mill in 1860 before taking its namesake from when it became a whisky bottling plant decades later.
It’s fair to say 36 Lime Street is continuing its history and putting a quirky building to great use great use once again.
Last weekend saw the second instalment of Jason Cook’s Comedy Club at Wylam Brewery’s Palace of Arts. HELEN GILDERSLEEVE caught up with some of the stars of the show.
Another sold out evening where ales were flowing gave the distinctive and airy venue a buzzing atmosphere. The evening was compered flawlessly by popular Hebburn actor and Geordie Rat Pack member, Steffen Peddie, who had the audience in stitches with his accounts of him monumentally peeing someone off at the Tyne Tunnel change machine, explaining why Slimming World coaches are evil and the highs (and lows) of memory foam mattresses.
First up was local lad, John Fothergill, who entertained us all with his dry and sarcastic accounts of life in London as a Geordie. A regular at the Comedy Store, Fothergill’s style is original as he moves from embarrassing sexual revelations to mocking his rural upbringing in Crawcrook.
Next on stage was Steve Day who brought a totally unique performance and shared witty observations of being a deaf man in a hearing world. He claims to be the only deaf comedian, and if there are others he hasn’t heard of them. Steve wasn’t born deaf but lost his hearing when he was a teenager, he explains: “I was about 18. They don’t know the cause, something that used to frustrate me, but I’ve learned to look forward not backwards”. His rants are enjoyable; especially a story about a Paralympics event he attended that showed Boris Johnson’s true colours. He educates the audience to the hilarity of deaf person snobbery, claiming people who were born deaf believe they are superior to him which he simply rolls his eyes at. Being a deaf comedian is great anyway he claims in conclusion, because you can never hear if anybody is heckling.
Headliner of the night was Edinburgh dwelling Canadian funny man, Tom Stade. Relatively famous on the comedy circuit, Stade has appeared on the likes of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and Live at the Apollo as well as The Comedy Store and various comedy festivals.
He literally bounds onto the stage with endless energy and his performance was met with raucous laughter almost immediately. It’s impossible not to find this man funny.
His observations of quirky British habits were cleverly delivered, ranging from our obsession with buying flights for £29.95 regardless of the destination to his confusion of how we happily spend £3 on lattes (and physically demonstrated how we get sexually molested financially by coffee chains) yet are obsessed with Primark bargains and are all tight arses. British TV is also the butt of many jokes as he asks the simple question of why people would go on Cash in the Attic. The highlight of his set had to be his impressions of coffee chain adverts if they existed including “Starbucks is where you can meet a new friend” and “Nero is where you go when the others are closed”.
I caught up with him after the show quickly and it’s apparent his magnetic energy isn’t just a stage act. He told us how he simply loves what he does and can’t understand how all these young folk want photos with him as he’s uncool and doesn’t even know what Snapchat is. Its ok Tom, I don’t either. But thanks for the photo.
The 350 strong crowd left the brewery in better spirits than when they arrived, and not just from the tasty beer on tap. I think this event has already become a regular calendar filler for many locals and it’s clear Cook skilfully selects the slickest of comedians and the range is always eclectic, varied and well, funny. I can’t wait for the next one.
HELEN GILDERSLEEVE attends the debut of Jason Cook’s Comedy Club on a Saturday evening. A sell out event that proved hops and hysterics are truly a winning combo.
It isn’t long since the popular Wylam Brewery Palace of Arts opened its grand doors less than a year ago. Since then the brewery has hosted many successful events, quickly becoming a venue etched firmly in the social calendars of many locals.
Around 350 laugh seekers headed to the brewery on what was a freezing, depressing night and it’s fair to say it was definitely worth the trip.
Cook, writer of the popular Hebburn series on BBC 2 invited a trio of comedians including local lads Gavin Webster and Carl Hutchinson as well as Canadian headliner Phil Nichol.
The night was compered flawlessly by Cook who dropped in comical anecdotes throughout of kinky mishaps with In the Night Garden toys and mocking phone users in the audience.
First up on stage was special guest Gavin Webster who had everyone in fits with his account of Geordies being so hard they single-handedly stopped anyone attacking Hadrian’s Wall and beyond. His hilarious take on the Glasweigan accent also went down a storm.
Next up was the mightily-pee’d-off-with-life-and-everything-it-entails Carl Hutchinson. Sharing his witty accounts of why he despises vegetarians right down to an account of why he’d strategically jump off a bridge in rush hour and give Games of Thrones spoilers to the general public, Hutchinson is definitely one to watch on the national comedy scene.
Surprise guest of the night was Canadian, London dwelling, funny man Phil Nichol. Who one can only describe as completely off his rocker. In the best way possible.
His act started off lightly with some great comparisons between Canadians and Cockneys, then quickly transcended into a potty-mouthed, guitar playing frenzy. Songs were littered with below the belt blinders and material that would make your mother blush. His act ended with him stripping half naked and being carried through the crowd by a guest he’d befriended. Not a single person could have kept straight-faced if they tried.
Cook certainly exceeded all expectations for his first stab at a gig here and it’s easy to see that the next shows will be definite sell outs. The Wylam beer fresh from keg to cup was an added bonus, I was a particular fan of the aptly named Keep Taking the Plsner.
If it’s laughs you’re after in a unique venue then you should definitely come along to the next one; a superb evening out.
HELEN GILDERSLEEVE checks out Newcastle’s vintage clothing shops and speaks to the owners of two of the city’s favourite retro stores that sell popular fashions from times past.
It’s always fun to look back nostalgically at the bygone eras, making it easy to see why vintage clothing has had a recent popularity spike. Due to the success of genre films and shows like the Great Gatsby, La La Land, Downton Abbey and Mad Men, or maybe people just wanting a change from generic high street land, it seems retro rags are here to stay (although I’m still freaked out that my teenage wardrobe is now classed as retro).
Vintage clothing has a quality that transcends time and it’s easy to get a hold of some quirky buys right on your doorstep. I spoke to the owners of two of the city’s favourite retro shops: Flip on Westgate Road and The Yesterday Society in the Grainger Market.
Flip (104 Westgate Road)
Importing genuine American clothing makes Flip’s style stand out from any other vintage shops. Owner, Nick Woods, took over the business from his father who founded the shop 40 years ago making it Newcastle’s longest standing retro clothes store. Flip has been importing clothes from across the pond since 1978 and has built a strong reputation locally amongst young and old.
Overhead speakers coax customers into the shop with bassy electronica, rhythm and blues and Americana rock. The entrance is a narrow, poster-adorned corridor which works as an acoustic funnel.
On entering the store, everything at Flip has its own appropriate section; not one shirt was out of place nor a crease apparent in any of the Levi 501 jeans. The Springsteen vibe meant there were even sections for cowboy bootlace ‘bolo’ ties and original Ball Mason jars- perfect for moonshine quaffing.
Nick said every time he receives a shipment from the USA, it’s incredibly exciting as he has no idea what he will get. Most recently he found retro American style metal signs, which went for sale on their eBay shop. Overall, Flip has a clear identity and is well worth visiting for a step back in time and to find something a little different.
Tell us a bit about Flip and what you sell?
We’ve been in business since 1978, we’ve been importing genuine American clothing ever since and have built a strong identity and reputation in the North East. We sell shirts, coats, leather jackets, retro signs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, denim and lots more pieces of classic Americana.
What sells the best?
This tends to change all the time but we’ve noticed US printed sweatshirts, denim jackets and flannel shirts always seem to do consistently well.
Do you think Newcastle has a good selection of vintage stores?
Right now there’s only a few as there’s been some recent vintage clothing shop closures. We tend to help each other out by sending trade to each other if we don’t stock certain items customers are looking for.
Why do you think vintage clothes have made a recent comeback?
I think vintage clothing has always been in demand but at the moment we’ve noticed a lot more of the younger crowd taking a keener interest. A lot of people realise that classics never go out of fashion and it’s always good to see people embrace mixing the old with the new. I’d like to think another reason is that vintage has a positive environmental impact. You’re actively recycling whenever you buy vintage.
The Yesterday Society (Grainger Market)
Neatly tucked away in Newcastle’s 180-year old Grainger Market alongside book and food stalls, The Yesterday Society is easily missed. It may have a limited amount of clothes with it being a small space but with good pricing and a great selection of old school items, they certainly make up for it with quality. It’s like a Pandora’s Box of unique and quirky items; the stall is tastefully adorned and reminiscent of a backstage theatre in bygone Hollywood.
The owner, Rachael, is an enthusiast of all things vintage. Her range is imaginatively selected and updated daily. Vintage gowns and hats, shell suits, 80s shirts and shoes and accessories sold alongside each other in a visual array of colour. Rachael also stocks vintage children’s clothes, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. Dedicated customers can apply for a loyalty card scheme to. Bonus!
How did you’re the Yesterday Society come about?
I have always loved vintage and The Yesterday Society came about when I was working at the Tyneside Cinema as FOH. In my induction session, I met future friend and business partner Rosie Skett. Rosie was a fine art student at Newcastle Uni and we hit it off straight away. We worked at the Tyneside happily, but on one particularly boring bar shift we got to talking about our dream jobs, both agreeing that owning a vintage shop would be up there.
As anyone who knows me will admit I’m pretty laid back and would never have got around to doing it, but luckily Rosie was on the ball and went on her dinner break to look at the vacant units in the Grainger Market. One being Unit 9, the now home of The Yesterday Society.
From that point, everything seemingly fell into place we created a business plan, came up with a name after numerous suggestions (cat’s pyjamas anyone?), applied for finance, secured the unit, found suppliers and two months after that initial conversation in the Tyneside Bar we opened the doors to The Yesterday Society on 31st August 2013.
What inspires you?
I would say my love of vintage and retro clothes was my main inspiration in opening the shop. I love fashions of the past and to stand out from the crowd, and with vintage you can pretty much guarantee you will never see anyone wearing the same outfit. The ethical side of wearing vintage is a big thing for me too. I was brought up with very ‘waste not want not’ ideals and the current “throw away fashion” society does nothing for me. I would much rather recycle and revive a vintage piece that had history and life of its own previously than to just buy something new off the hanger.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a Newcastle lass through and through and was raised in Walker. I believe my love of vintage and flamboyant clothes can be attributed to my mam who took me on shopping trips to treasure troves like Attica as a kid and was known to overdress for any occasion. I have always loved looking different and standing out from the crowd, this has taken many guises from goth on “Hippy Green” to super girly all pink outfits.
It was at Northumbria Uni while studying for a degree in Human Geography that I found my true style wearing vintage and mixing a variety of decades in one outfit. I’m not going to lie there was a couple of questionable outfits. Once walking into a lecture with a mate Jess and over hearing someone comment “what the hell are they wearing now”! But hey everyone makes mistakes.
To complete my degree, I managed to write my Human Geography dissertation on identity creation through vintage clothes, this fuelled my love of vintage and allowed me to go shopping while doing my research.
Who is your fashion hero/heroine?
I take inspiration from many different places and people. But the two people probably highest on the list would be David Bowie and Iris Apfel. Both display extremely unique styles and multiple looks sometimes in one outfit. Iris has a great eye, and to me always looks fabulous, something I aspire to do especially when I’m her age. Bowie made each style his own and always looked great.
Do you think Newcastle has a decent amount of vintage stockists?
That’s a tricky one, I believe that in terms of vintage shops Newcastle is behind other cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow, especially for a city with such a big student population. However, living in Newcastle all my life I have come to realise that vintage shops in the city tend to come and go a lot. The majority of vintage shops I included in my dissertation in 2009 (other than Retro and Flip) have all closed down. Newcastle does also host a lot of events from traveling vintage fairs.
HELEN GILDERSLEEVE hails the success of the Great North Snowdogs campaign that has charmed the region and raised more than a quarter of a million pounds for charity
You’d have to be a hermit not to have noticed at least one Snowdog sculpture across the region recently. A total of 61 Snowdogs, each with a unique design, were displayed on a public art trail for ten weeks across Tyne and Wear’s streets, parks and open spaces. Standing at 1.5m tall (4ft 9ins), the eye-catching sculptures included several local designs, including two in the colours of Newcastle United and Sunderland football teams.
Other designs ranged from a Captain Spock design and dogs displaying local landmarks and maps through to a pirate Snowdog at the coast and one with glass accessories incorporating Sunderland’s National Glass Centre.
The individually designed Snowdog sculptures, painted by both well-known and undiscovered artists were presented by creative producers Wild in Art, working in partnership with St Oswald’s Children’s Hospice in Gosforth. Their aim was to bring together businesses, artists, schools and community groups to create a public art trail based on the popular The Snowman and The Snowdog by Raymond Briggs.
The sculptures have created much joy across the region as children and adults alike have tracked the full map trail which led them from the coast to the city and right up to Northumberland.
Last week I attended the final farewell auction of the Snowdogs at Sage Gateshead where all the loveable creatures were auctioned off to raise vital funds for St Oswald’s Hospice. A whopping £252,200 was made by the end of the night and all Snowdogs were escorted off to their new fur-ever homes.
The highest price of the night was paid for Disco Dog, designed by mosaic artist Natalie Guy, which sold for a whopping £9,200!
Popular Durham based farm, Mini Moos Fun Park, went home with a grand total of four Snowdogs for families to come and visit at the venue. Other dogs found fur-ever homes at a variety of businesses, charities and causes across the region.
St Oswald’s Hospice sponsored its very own Snowdog. The aptly named Wild North East dog became particularly precious to the children and young adults cared for at the hospice who watched him being painted and even added some decoration of their own before he was placed at Jesmond Dene.
Renowned wildlife artist, Jina Gelder, based this design on wildlife native to the North East, adding hedgehogs to represent the hedgehog house at the hospice, flowers from its gardens and signposts showing the breadth of the region it covers. After meeting the young people who use the hospice, she was inspired to include butterflies to symbolise their short but beautiful lives.
To bring him home forever the charity launched an appeal in a bid to raise a minimum of £4000 in order to buy Wild North East at the auction. The appeal was a roaring success and the dog was delivered back to its rightful home this week much to the glee of hospice staff and users.
I had a few words at the auction with Jane Hogan, the Great North Snowdogs project lead for St Oswald’s Hospice who was delighted with the success and amount raised. She said:
“The Snowdogs campaign has captured the hearts and minds of the public in a way in which we never anticipated. Tonight’s auction has raised a phenomenal amount of money which will be put to great use within our hospice. The campaign has presented us with opportunities to communicate with a wider audience and to fundraise in a unique and imaginative way. The event has opened up many doors for us and has allowed us to build connections with individuals and organisations from across the region, some of whom hadn’t heard of the hospice before.
“Tonight we’ve been amazed and humbled by the enormous generosity of our bidders who’ve collectively raised a huge sum of money for our Children’s Hospice.
“We’re thrilled to be bringing another mass public art trail back to the region in 2019 which builds upon the success of our first outing.”
Looks like we’ll all have to be armed with our maps and cameras again for 2019….
HELEN GILDERSLEEVE speaks to the founders of Newcastle based charity WECare Worldwide about the fantastic work they do to save the lives, treat and care for Sri Lankan street dogs.
After a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I discovered the heart breaking plight of many stray dogs there. As beautiful a country this is, it is very far removed from the UK when it comes to animal welfare; dogs are often viewed as pests and there’s an unprecedented amount of homeless dogs due to a lack of neutering available.
I remember sitting on the beach one night realising I was surrounded by more stray dogs than people, all desperately seeking food, shelter and basic human affection. I ended up sharing most of my rice with a couple as they looked at me with desperately sad eyes. It led me to want to help and volunteer for the charities that work tirelessly to save these poor creatures. Little did I know that a wonderful group of vets from my home town were doing just this!
WECare Worldwide are a team of veterinary surgeons and nurses from Newcastle’s Westway Veterinary Group whose aim is to provide a high level of veterinary expertise to animals who don’t have access to any other form of healthcare.
The charity was set up by local veterinary surgeon, Janey Lowes, from the Westway Veterinary Group in October 2014. Janey, who is originally from Barnard Castle has a mission is to provide veterinary care for less fortunate animals around the world, starting in Sri Lanka. A huge amount of work goes into the charity from the UK who often host events, fundraisers and sell Sri Lankan made products in Westway branches across the North East. This year she became the first vet to receive a Points of Light award – an accolade given by the Prime Minister to volunteers who make positive changes in their community.
Former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said; “She has undoubtedly changed the fate of scores of vulnerable animals by protecting them from disease and providing much needed care. “I am recognising Janey as a Point of Light, not only for the positive impact she’s had through helping animals in need, but also for the countless people that will have been protected from rabies by her work.”
With no healthcare available, many of the street dogs in Sri Lanka live in a considerable degree of pain and discomfort. Some of the injuries that occur there are beyond belief and many have previously died slow and painful deaths. From skin disease, to multiple fractures to inflicted injuries, such as severe burns, bomb injuries and collar wounds- these dogs have been to hell and back and it is time for this to stop.
Sri Lanka’s roaming dog population is rumoured to be 1 to 3 million in a country the size of Ireland with a human population of 20 million. Unsurprisingly, there are not enough resources to support this number of dogs and as a result many starve to death or succumb to disease, with 60% of puppies dying before they reach their first year.
Education on animal welfare and responsible pet ownership is non-existent in Sri Lanka, leading to generations of families demonstrating neglect and often cruelty of an extreme kind to dogs, both stray and owned. They often do not know any better and feel as though they are doing a good thing by protecting their families from vermin. To make matters worse, the veterinary profession in Sri Lanka does little to promote compassionate care.
Charities like WECare Worldwide truly are a godsend and without these, many of these beautiful dogs would die.
To date, WECare has carried out the following treatments:
HELEN GILDERSLEEVE gets a taste of Louisiana as she chats to local Americana bluegrass band with a difference, Big Red & the Grinners.
Trying to describe the talent of this band is difficult – you just need to see them.
Featuring banjo, accordion, double bass, acoustic guitars and percussion, Big Red & the Grinners move seamlessly from the likes of Jay Z’s 99 Problems, Technotronic’s Pump Up the Jam, Tony Rice’s bluegrass classic Freeborn Man to a hilarious rendition of Paradise City by Guns n’ Roses.
It’s clear from the minute Big Red & the Grinner’s step onto the stage at any of their gigs (and I’ve been to six), that the audience love them. And if they don’t immediately, they soon will.
“They call us Big Red and The Grinners because I’m Big Red, and these are the Grinners” followed by yells of “Yee Haws” is how this band operates. You just can’t help but like them and I defy anybody not to.
So what makes this band so likeable? It’s a mix of their hilarious and foot tappingly addictive covers of classic songs through to the jovial and informal way they interact with their audience treating them to cheesy jokes between songs. It’s a struggle not to smile and get up and dance.
A particular favourite of mine is their cover of the popular ‘Crazy’; “my Grand-pappy wrote this song for a young fellow named Ceelo Green, or Gnarles Barkley, whatever you wanna call him”, shouts Red as he laughs into his microphone, beer in hand, and stays that way until they finish with John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ with the whole audience dancing away and singing along at the top of their lungs.
Tell me a bit about Big Red and how you began?
Joe, our guitarist and banjo player had become tired of what had become a stale and predictable music scene in the local bars and clubs where most of the bands all seemed to be playing the same stuff. With a desire to create something different he set about assembling a band of musicians willing to try something out of the ordinary. We didn’t set out to create a certain ‘type’ of band, the only brief was that the song choices had to be different from what anyone else was doing at the time.
After a few rehearsals and some interesting early gigs, the songs themselves somehow seemed to shape what became Big Red & the Grinners and things just developed from there. Our music has been described as a combination of bluegrass, rockgrass, folk and blues – we’re still not entirely sure ourselves – or what ‘type of band we are! Ask ten people at one of our gigs and you’ll get ten different answers – we like that!
What’s the perks of the job?
Apart from the free beer and private planes? Getting to meet lots of interesting folks is a great part of the job. We’ve been lucky enough to share the stage with the likes of Ward Thomas, Della Mae, Lost Bros and Field Music which has been great. We’ve also popped up on TV a couple of times too and it’s been good to see how all that works behind the scenes. We’re still waiting on the call from James Corden that he promised though!
What’s your musical inspiration?
Well anyone who’s ever seen us knows that Red’s Grandpappy is our musical inspiration. People are amazed at how many hit songs that man wrote! We’ll be bringing out our first CD containing a good selection of them in time for Christmas. Forget Little Mix, Michael Buble or Lady Gaga….it’s Grandpappy’s Greatest Hits Volume 1 that you need as your stocking filler this year. Available from all good high street stockists…..or from us which will be easier!
Where do you enjoy performing?
We enjoy performing everywhere but festivals are our favourite gigs. You get to travel round the country to play for people who don’t often get the chance to see us – or have never seen us before. We closed the Upton Blues Festival down in Gloucestershire this year where almost every building in the town is turned into a music venue. Headlining the outdoor stage on the final night next to the river was pretty special.
Locally, we love playing Sage Gateshead and The Cluny. Two very different venues in terms of size and atmosphere but both have something about them. The Americana Festival at Sage Gateshead and Stormin’ The Castle down in County Durham are particular favourites.
Where does the deep south influence come from?
That will be Red’s Grandpappy again! He’s from that neck of the woods.
We keep telling Red we’re only bringing back home what’s rightfully ours though as much of American roots music is based on Irish, Scottish and English traditional music. He begs to differ but everyone knows he gets his geography mixed up now and then – I suppose it’s only to be expected from someone who must clock up more air miles than Springsteen!
The smell of chocolate increases theta brain waves, which triggers relaxation. What better a reason do we need to indulge in one of the nation’s favourite treats? HELEN GILDERSLEEVE samples gourmet chocolate that is made right on our doorstep in Newcastle and speaks to a producer from local business, North Chocolates.
The aptly named North Chocolates founded in 2013 is the brainchild of local lass, Bev Stephenson of Forest Hall in Newcastle whose products have been described as ‘more desirable than world peace’ and proudly won ‘Artisanal Producer of the Year’ (Newcastle Business Awards, 2015).
Made from the finest couverture (which means less sugar, no vegetable fats and lashings of cocoa and cocoa butter) they specialise in small batch gourmet chocolate bars from the classic to the unusual. Think surprising flavours that you wouldn’t expect at all to go with chocolate that just seem to work. It’s like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory here in the North East. The fact that they’re healthier than the average chocolate bar is an added bonus!
Chocoholics are spoilt for choice with North which has a core range of 15 to 20 flavours including popping candy, lemon and sea salt, lavender, chilli and lime and coffee and cardamom (a particular favourite of mine). Yum!
I was unleashed to try a couple of bars and I must say I will now be a regular customer at North. I’m a big fan of dark chocolate and ginger so when I spied the award winning ginger and fennel bar, I knew it was the one for me and boy was I right. It had the perfect combination of richness and smoothness with the delicious zing of ginger and infused fennel. It didn’t last very long.
Next I tucked into the lavender bar. The creamy milk chocolate is enhanced beautifully by floral lavender tones. I (almost) felt guilty breaking into it as North bars are packed so prettily, wrapped in an array of coloured foil complete with a quirky ribbon bow. These will certainly be high up on my Christmas list (family and friends, you know who you are).
I spoke with the chocolate goddess herself, Bev Stephenson, to find out the secrets behind her fantastic business:
How did you get into chocolate making?
I used to be a freelance journalist, specialising in food and lifestyle (The Guardian/ Observer, Metro North East) but then the recession hit! I’d been thinking long and hard about another career in food and I’d written articles on chocolate and played around with it a lot and thought I’d spotted a gap in the market. I got a lot of help from a friend who makes chocolate, went on a few courses and launched North in 2013.
Is the business going well?
Very well! I took on an apprentice last year, Gillian Ibbotson, who has been fantastic and I won ‘Artisan Producer of the Year’ in the Newcastle Business Awards last November which was a huge surprise. I wake up some nights thinking I need to hire more people and go bigger but then I wake up the next night worried people will stop liking the chocolate!
Which chocolate is the most popular?
Some bars have won awards including the dark Ginger & Fennel and the milk Lemon & Lemon Sea Salt so they have a head start, but the Chilli & Lime, Coffee (using the Ouseburn Coffee Company beans) and my new one Liquorice & Blackcurrant have sold brilliantly. Bizarrely the milk Geranium is one of my other best sellers – geranium is very similar to rose so it’s a little like eating Turkish Delight without the jelly! It’s a real love or loathe bar but for those who like it they keep coming back for more.
Many people would view what you do as a dream job, would you agree?
I truly love this job but it has its ups and downs. When you’re covered in sticky chocolate and you’ve done an 18 hour day to try and complete orders and then you have to clean down your kitchen, do the marketing, the social media, the admin and then pack and deliver the bars then it can get a little overwhelming! But all small businesses have those pressures and when someone says they love what you’re producing and come back for more it’s honestly the best feeling in the world.
How do you sample?
Some people prefer milk or dark so I always ask them that first and I try to winkle out if they’re adventurous or prefer something more classic in their chocolate bar. I have some flavours that people hate and that’s no problem – we all have different tastes and palates – but sampling is important as we’re sometimes a little safe and they may try and absolutely love something they wouldn’t necessarily buy and that’s a great feeling.
Where can people buy North chocolate?
I’m mainly based in the North East in a lot of delis and shops around the region including Fenwick and some National Trust outlets. You can buy via the website: www.northchocolates.co.uk or if you click on stockists on the site, it gives you a list of where to nab your bars!
More chocolate makers and sellers around the region.
There’s a wonderful variety of chocolate makers and chocolate sellers in and around the North East. Here’s a selection:
North Chocolates, Newcastle
Fabulous range of flavours from Bev Stephenson owner of Newcastle’s ‘Artisanal Producer of the Year’ 2015 (Newcastle Business Awards). Dark chocolate range includes Ginger and Fennel; Geranium and Orange and Chilli and Lime. Milk chocolate flavours include Lavender and Lemon and Lemon Sea Salt. There are many others to try. For details visit www.northchocolates.co.uk or find on Twitter @bevnorthchocs
The Chocolate Smiths, Newcastle
Unusual flavours made by The Chocolate Smiths of Newcastle include everything from bacon to bubblegum. Intriguing flavours include cheese and cracker and peanut butter and pretzel. The Chocolate Smiths sell through a number of North East stockists. For details visit thechocolatesmiths.com or find them on Twitter @ChocolateSmiths
Kenspeckle of Northumberland make unique chocolates and home-made fudge created by a dedicated team who create favourites of yester-year with a traditional artisan twist. Notable products include Northumbrian Honey Truffles and Puffin Beak pralines. Find them online at www.kenspeckle.co.uk or on Twitter @kenspeckle_choc
The Little Chocolate Shop, Leyburn, North Yorkshire
Situated in Leyburn in Wensleydale, this small chocolate factory has a visitor centre where you can watch chocolate being made. You can sample the wares in the adjoining shop and cafe. Visit online at littlechocolateshop.co.uk and on Twitter @littlechocshop
Kennedys Fine Chocolates, Cumbria
Based in Orton village near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, Kennedy’s is a small family chocolate making company producing more than 90 chocolate varieties. Visit their website at kennedyschocolates.co.uk or on Twitter @kennedyschocs
Chcocolate Fayre, Barnard Castle (shop)
Chocolate Fayre of 31a Horsemarket, Barnard Castle, have chocolates and truffles specially hand made for their delightful shop in this county Durham dalestown. For more details visit www.chocolatefayre.co.uk or Twitter @ChocFayre
Hotel Chocolat, Newcastle (Shop)
One of a number of luxury chocolate sellers nationwide, the Newcastle store is based in Blackett Street. Visit online at hotelchocolat.com or on Twitter @HotelChocolat
With 70 million cups of coffee consumed in the UK every day, it’s easy to see why we’ve taken to roasting coffee on our doorstep. HELEN GILDERSLEEVE explores the region’s growing independent coffee roasteries, suppliers and cafes.
Tyneside’s longest reigning coffee supplier is the much loved Pumphrey’s Coffee, based in Blaydon. Established in Newcastle’s Flesh Market (near the Bigg Market) back in 1750, Pumphrey’s is a true family business. Directors Stuart Archer (Snr) and son Stuart Archer (Jnr) provide top quality coffee and are dedicated to meeting customer requirements whether that be coffee beans, teas, brewing equipment or espresso machinery.
Pumphrey’s strive to purchase the finest coffee beans from around the world and roast them to order in the traditional way with flames. This involves open flame roasting drums dating back over 80 years and under the careful eye of master roaster Stuart Lee Archer, Pumphrey’s aim to provide delicious tasting, fresh coffee to their customers’ choosing.
Since 1983, Pumphrey’s Coffee has been based at Bridge Street in Blaydon. The site comprises a warehouse, factory, training room and a coffee shop open to trade and the general public.
Newer to the scene is the equally popular Ouseburn Coffee Co (OCC), based in Foundry Lane in Newcastle’s Ouseburn area. Established in 2012 by a small band of artisan coffee roasters and baristas it offers a highly selective range of coffee from around the world. All OCC coffee is lovingly roasted in small batch lots and bagged up fresh the same day.
Established in 2012 and offering ethically sourced seasonal coffee the coffee is roasted and bagged by hand in small batches on Foundry Lane in the heart of the Ouseburn Valley.
The business has gone from strength to strength and opened the doors of its Harvest Canteen café in Jesmond in 2014.
Famed for its simple, striking black and white design, which carries through to Harvest’s décor, the cafe has a clean, chic and relaxing feel and coffee lovers can pick anything from a flat white or an espresso through to a 7oz latte.
The more eccentric of coffee drinkers may even want to try OCC’s Cold Brew. Using just fresh roast single origin coffee, slow cold water extraction and triple filtration, OCC don’t add anything else to their brew and it is recommended to be enjoyed either on its own for the ultimate kick, with water or even added to gin or rum for a boozy drink with a difference.
They also have a regular stall at the popular Tynemouth Station Market every weekend. I love nothing more than sipping one of their lattes whilst browsing the market. This year also saw OCC boasting its own counter in Fenwick’s all new Food Hall. It certainly looks like there’s more to come from these guys.
A particular favourite of mine is BLK Coffee on Heaton’s bustling Chillingham Road. BLK has a regular rotation of beans from around the globe for the most dedicated and adventurous of coffee lovers.
The brainchild of BLK is local lass Alison Bell, who has her own coffee inspired blog and website- Black Coffee and Other Stories. BLK also stock amazing cakes every time I go in. Keep up the great work, Alison.
For city centre folk in need of a pick-me-up, Pink Lane Coffee near Newcastle’s Central Station has established itself as one of the foremost speciality coffee destinations in the region, featuring in publications such as Grazia, ShortList and the UK edition of the Condé Nast Traveller since opening in 2012.
Pink Lane Coffee is a spacious and creatively designed café featuring local art work and a quirky décor. It even has its own mini library of books to borrow for those like me who often forget to remember their own.
They now roast their own beans called Colour Coffee which are served at various cafes across the North East. Owner, Anth Atkinson, set up shop in Sandyford where he hopes to encourage locals to enjoy independent coffee.
Since Colour Coffee was founded in November 2013, near Corbridge, Northumberland, the firm has sourced a range of seasonal coffees from across the world, taking a scientific approach to production, with laptops and temperature sensors used to monitor and replicate each successful roast. Who knew science could taste so good?
Other fabulous independents across the region include the very popular Flat White in Durham, Flat Caps Coffee and Laneway & Co in Newcastle, Cullercoats Coffee and The Boatyard in Cullercoats, Navaho and Coolaboola in Jesmond, Holmeside Coffee and Café Eighteen in Sunderland and The Mockingbird Deli in Yarm, to name a few.