All posts by Paul White

“I’ll boo your team, but drink your beer.”

Sunderland fan and beer blogger PAUL WHITE swallows his pride, a glass of Shearer and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale but does it leave a bitter taste?

Shearer and Newcastle Brown Ale
Shearer and Newcastle Brown Ae. Photo: Paul White

Well, my football team, Sunderland, got hammered and my fantasy league side had a pretty low-scoring day. Our rival football team, Newcastle, won. Ireland won in the rugby (that’s a good thing in our house). All round, yesterday was a pretty mixed bag, in terms of sports.

So, what better way to wind down than with a couple of beers, and I thought I would look at the relationship between beer and sport. In particular, beers that one might associate with a rival team. In my case, that means Newcastle United.

I guess the question I’m asking myself is, should you ever be put off a good beer because its association with the “other side” of a sporting rivalry leaves a bitter taste before the first drop has been tasted? Or, is it tantamount to a chance to get one over on the opposition: “I’ll boo your team, but drink your beer.” I’m sure other analogies can be found.

Now, Tyneside has its fair share of excellent breweries, but I have gone for one beer that is indelibly associated with the football team, and one that is, well, only linked by virtue of an unfortunate name.

Let’s start with that one and ease myself into it.

Shearer, from Black Sheep, is actually named in honour of sheep shearers, as opposed to being a tribute to Alan. Still, I thought twice, only half-heartedly, about whether I could bring myself to drink a beer that carries the name of the hero – legend, even – for those up the road.

As far as I recall, despite being the all-time Premier League goalscoring record holder, Shearer the player only ever scored three times against Sunderland (Gary Rowell managed that many against Newcastle in one game).He is also very fair about Sunderland in his punditry on Match of the Day, even quite vocal in his praise on the rare occasion it is warranted (not tonight, definitely not tonight). Plus, you have to admire a player who will choose to reject a move to a big club where he might achieve his true potential in order to fulfil the dream of joining the team he supported from childhood*.

So, actually, I don’t have any issue with the man himself, and as I take my first taste of the beer, I realise that I can put the loose link to Newcastle to one side and enjoy a really fresh, citrusy, pale ale. It’s probably more a summer ale, being so light and fruity, rather than a drink for a cold February night with a good chance of waking up to a snowy scene in the morning.

This is probably lighter than anything I’ve tasted from Black Sheep and I’ve had pretty much everything they’ve had on offer in the last five years or so. It goes down really well and you could drink it all afternoon on a good beer garden day, especially as it’s a nice steady 4.1%. Probably not in a Sunderland beer garden, though.

So, yes, this very loosely affiliated beer is a winner, but I won’t be shouting its name in bars any time soon.

broon

Now, onto the second of the beers. Newcastle Brown Ale takes me back to the days when the iconic Blue Star adorned not only the label of its bottles, but also the shirts of Newcastle United. However, it’s also a beer I’ve enjoyed many times in the past, as far afield as New York. As someone who is proud of the North East as a whole, it’s great to see a beer from the region finding its way into bars around the world.

However, as I’ve historically considered it a strong beer, I’ve often only turned to Newcastle Brown Ale once I’ve been well into a night out. Nowadays, 4.7% doesn’t seem that strong, with many of the beers on the market going much higher.

In reality, it is probably my North East roots and the cultural identity that Newcastle Brown Ale has, stretching much further than the association with the football team, that make me feel more than comfortable about enjoying a bottle of Dog.

The nickname alone says something about life in the North East in days gone by, with “I’m gannin’ to see a man about a Dog” often being an excuse to get out of the house and down to the pub.

There’s something about Newcastle Brown Ale that makes it far more a part of the North East than purely being a Newcastle United-related drink. And that’s before I even talk about the beer itself. Few beers achieve such iconic status without being good. Dog is good. Very good.

Smooth and full of flavour and aroma, one can forgive the fact it’s now brewed in Yorkshire if it means keeping a great beer alive.

Having enjoyed bottles of Sunderland’s Double Maxim and Guinness Original XX last Saturday, while Sunderland were enjoying their 0-4 smash and grab raid at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park and Ireland were narrowly being beaten by Scotland in an RBS Six Nations classic, I can say that great beers go with sport and it’s nice to have that association. However, why deny your tastebuds a treat simply because of sporting allegiances?

*Tongue firmly in cheek. You won’t get many footballers making that sort of choice these days.

This blog post originally appeared on www.poetsdaypint.weebly.com

 

A proud return

Mike Ross. Photo White
Mike Ross. Photo White

PAUL WHITE reviews North East musician Mike Ross on a return gig to the region.

Back in the late 90s, I had the pleasure of writing about live music for The Northern Echo. While the opportunities to interview the likes of Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres, Gerry Marsden, Terrorvision, Deacon Blue and many more was fantastic, what I really loved was seeing local bands play live and be well-received by decent-sized audiences around the Darlington and Durham music scenes.

One band that I maintain to this day to be one of the best and most exciting bands to see live was Taller Than, a three-piece outfit from the Sacriston and Lanchester area.

Playing their own music as Taller Than, often coupled with covers sets as the Popular Beat Combo, they were regulars at the likes of O’Neills in both Durham and Darlington, and the Filibuster & Firkin in Darlington, along with many more venues around the region.

In 2000, they played their last gig in Darlington before moving to the Brighton area, where all three members are still active in the music industry.

Sixteen years on, singer and guitarist Mike Ross returned to Darlington on Sunday night for his first return gig in the town, playing a two-set late afternoon session at The Quakerhouse.

Normally fronting the Mike Ross Band, Mike stripped back a range of his own numbers and covers, without losing anything in his simple guitar and vocals arrangements.

Opening with a Credence Clearwater cover, he quickly got the audience onside before heading into the latest version of an old Taller Than number, Questions, and mixing his own tracks like Ran Thru Here and Statesboro Blues with his own cover of Aretha Franklin’s Baby I Love You, which appears on his latest album, Jenny’s Place.

The hugely appreciative audience in a venue I had forgotten how much I like, complete with a great selection of real ales – right up my street – were ready and waiting for a second set to follow the break.

Set two opened with a version of Stephen Stills’ Love The One You’re With and took a blues journey through Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon, before dipping into Mike’s Spindrift debut album for Don’t Worry Baby Just Call, then returning to the familiar for the audience, with Johnny cash’s Get Rhythm, Marvin Gaye’s Heard It Through The Grapevine and more.

Closing the show with his own Bamboozled, Mike left the audience happy at the close of his mini North East tour and promising a return to the region in the Spring.

It was a great way to remind myself just how good Mike Ross is and what a great venue The Quakerhouse is, as well as what a hotbed of great musical talent the North East is, whether or not you’ve heard of many of the acts.

Mike Ross Music: www.mikerossmusic.co.uk/

On Twitter: @spindriftmike

On Facebook: www.facebook.com/themikerossband

How do I love beer? Let me count the ways

The Raven, brewed by Sonnet 43 of Coxhoe, County Durham. Photo: Paul White
The Raven, brewed by Sonnet 43 of Coxhoe, County Durham. Photo: Paul White

Beer blogger PAUL White tries out a local beer inspired by a poet.

It’s nice to learn something new, especially if it’s about your own part of the world.

I hadn’t been to the Toronto Lodge, just outside of Bishop Auckland, since a revamp a couple of years back, but decided to drop in for a bite to eat. I’d also heard it was home to some real ales, as well.

It turns out that it offers a range of ales from Sonnet 43, a brewery from nearby Coxhoe, which is where the learning begins.

I hadn’t been aware of this particular brewery, but it has an ale for all tastes. Personally, I decided to go for the bourbon milk stout, The Raven. After all, this last week did feature Stout Day.

Now, the brewery name and that of the beer itself are no coincidence, as I also learned that Coxhoe was home to a rather famous poet – most of you will at least be familiar with one of her lines.

For it was Elizabeth Barrett Browning who, in her Sonnet 43, wrote “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”.

Memorial to Elizabeth Barrett Browning at Kelloe church near Coxhoe in County Durham. Photo: David Simpson
Memorial to Elizabeth Barrett Browning at Kelloe church near Coxhoe in County Durham. Photo: David Simpson

I’ve driven past Coxhoe thousands of times, but I had no idea that it was home to Browning, or that she had inspired a brewery.

The beer is likewise poetically-inspired, taking its name from Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic classic.

Likewise, I have driven past the Toronto Lodge countless times since the revamp and it has been remiss of me not to have called in before now. What a great place with reasonably priced, but very good, food and drink.

But what of the beer itself?

Well, it’s a pleasant discovery, with a full flavour that is at once bitter and also smooth; a proper milk stout. It’s not an overly heavy drink, so could easily be one to settle into for an evening, should the opportunity arise.

With a lot of my beer reviews, I’ve highlighted those ales that are a natural progression for a lager drinker coming into the realms of beer. This is not one, but Sonnet 43 have plenty that would fit that bill.

Overall, it was an outing of discovery for the brain and the taste buds and I will be returning to sample more of the food and drink in the very near future.

Blog post originally written for Poets Day Pint.

A re-thinking of museum mentality

PAUL WHITE admits he’s not a museum fan but speaks in praise of the Oriental Museum, a hidden gem in Durham City

Some readers will call me a philistine, others may agree wholeheartedly, but I have a confession: it is a rare museum indeed that doesn’t have me wishing I could escape to the nearest pub.

I like culture and the arts, but not in the “shuffle along, item by item, trying to take in masses of information at a time” sense.

orientalmuseum
Oriental Museum Durham. Photo: Durham University

However, we have a gem of a museum hiding away in our region, to which I have voluntarily returned on more than one occasion. The Oriental Museum, in Durham, is full of great items for anyone who has an interest in the culture and history of the east.

Having visited China on a number of occasions and fallen in love with Japan on a trip that took in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, I find these cultures intriguing and a pleasure to learn about.

I dropped in to the Japan section of the Oriental Museum today – I’d recommend taking it in chunks – and from Manga to the Samurai and the mix of Bhuddist and Shinto religions, it’s full of items and information that I find far more exciting than the naval gazing minutiae we fill many, admittedly far from all, of our museums with.

I’m hugely proud of coming from Shildon, but it took me 20-odd years to return to the Timothy Hackworth Museum after being taken there as a child, and that was a work-related visit.

I would hasten to suggest that we are getting better, but I think I’ve been scarred from my childhood, and from being dragged to museums when I’m really not in the mood.

The colliery, Beamish Museum
The colliery, Beamish Museum. Photo: Paul White

The Oriental Museum, alongside Beamish, show how museums can be great resources and are a massive credit to the North East. Both are done very differently, yet equally fire my imagination. On trips to the US and Canada, the museum elements of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Ice Hockey Hall of Fame, and the Johnny Cash Museum, were visits I made voluntarily, despite there being an abundance of bars and other amenities I could easily have opted to escape to.

Perhaps there is something niche in each of these examples that appeals directly to me.

In any case, if, like me, you were put off such visits as a child, maybe it’s time to think again and find a museum that holds a particular interest for you. The North East is a great place to start.

Gems of the #NECoast

In preparation for a social media celebration of the North East coast PAUL WHITE explores the shores from Seaton Carew to South Shields

Sunshine at South Shields. Photo: Paul White
Sunshine at South Shields. Photo: Paul White

I don’t think it’s possible to live in the North East for so long that you know everywhere and everything about the region.

Personally, I’ve never lived outside of the North East in my 40 years. I was even fortunate enough to get on a degree course that was taught in Darlington.

I’m not someone who believes that there is nothing to be gained from venturing further afield, like some Shildonian version of Hale & Pace’s Yorkshire Airways pilots. I love traveling, but I am also increasingly aware that there is always somewhere new to discover here.

On Sunday, I decided to take my camera with me on a trip up the coast. It was inspired by a plan hatched at Northumbrian Water that this Friday, September 9th, we would like to try to get as many people Tweeting pictures of the North East coast at the same time.

Wouldn’t it be great if we can fill a small part of the vastness that is Twitter with imagery of our region’s stunning coastline, even for just a few minutes? Anyway, more on that and how you can get involved later.

I started at Seaton Carew, a place I visited recently for the first time since my childhood. What a lovely seaside destination we have there, just to the south of Hartlepool. No airs and graces, little in the way of over-the-top flashing lights, and an amazing gelato shop (Jo Jo’s), to stop and rest your feet, while taking on board one of a wonderful array of sundaes.

Moody Skies over Seaton Carew. Photo: Paul White
Moody Skies over Seaton Carew. Photo: Paul White

The sky was brooding, the southern backdrop industrial. Yes, it’s lovely to get a shot of the type of beach that goes on forever, with blue sky up above and the sun shining. But, if I’m honest, when I have my camera I’ll take a dramatic set of clouds any day. Not least because I burn like nobody’s business after 15 minutes in the sun.

Next, I headed North, Seaham-bound. Only, I never got there. A little sign for Crimdon Beach caught my eye and I made an unplanned right turn and discovered an incredibly beautiful beach that I never knew existed.

Crimdon Beach. Photo Paul White
Crimdon Beach. Photo Paul White

A mix of pebbles, pools and sand, it was a revelation. Sure, I’d heard the name Crimdon, but never once associated it with a beach I’ll be sure to return to again and again. Wonderfully sheltered by the rising hills, there is less of a breeze, zero flashing lights, and it’s really quiet, almost like a little secret I’d stumbled upon. Ok, no gelato bar, but you can’t win them all.

Crimdon Beach
Crimdon Beach. Photo: Paul White

As the afternoon ticked on, I bypassed the lovely beaches of Seaham, Roker and Whitburn – and possibly one or two more gems I have yet to discover – and made my way to South Shields. This is another recent discovery (or, possibly, rediscovery) for me, I shamefully confess, but it’s got so much to offer for everyone.

I “found” it again – it’s another place I was probably brought as a child –  when a friend’s band were playing on the sea front a while ago, in a beautiful outdoor auditorium.

South Shields pier. Photo: Paul White
South Shields pier. Photo: Paul White

This was my first walk along the pier, however, and it provides a wonderful, fresh perspective on the mouth of the Tyne, with Tynemouth across the water and the Tyne heading inland, ferries setting off on their journeys and fishermen of all ages landing mackerel.

It was a whistle stop tour of three from countless wonderful places on our coastline and, while I will return to all three again, I will certainly be making a few trips to places I have never been, so that I never stop discovering the North East and its coast.

Beach at South Shields. Photo: Paul White
Beach at South Shields. Photo: Paul White

If you’d like to get involved with the plan to flood a small part of Twitter with beautiful images, Tweet your pics, using the #NECoast hashtag, on Friday, September 9, at around 4pm. Let’s show the world what they’re missing.

Find out more about Paul White and our England’s North East bloggers here

The light at the end of the roadworks

Roadworks may be frustrating for motorists but PAUL WHITE advocates patience with these necessary improvements to our civilisation

I drove from Durham to the MetroCentre a couple of weeks ago.

In rush hour.

Before I knew it, I was there.

It was the second time I’d experienced this phenomenon in recent weeks.

Having spent many an hour, over the course of the last couple of years, negotiating queues and 30mph zones, this was something of a pleasure.

Does that make me a sad case? Probably not. I’m sure many others will have enjoyed the freedom of the newly expanded A1.

IMG_1360
Roadworks on the A690 in Durham. Photo: David Simpson

We had similar issues not so long back on the A19 when the New Tyne Crossing was being built. Ok, so there is more to come as connecting junctions of the A19 are to be upgraded, but when you consider that these are the remaining clogs in that part of our road network, then surely the long term benefits are going to be worth any short term roadworks.

I must confess that I come to this from the viewpoint of someone who appreciates civil engineering from having worked with organisations and businesses in that sector in the past. I think I perhaps have developed a greater tolerance to the work that goes towards improving civilisation in our region.

Yes, improving civilisation. Think about it, this is what civil engineering does – it creates the world in which we live, from utilities to roads, bridges and buildings, flood defences and energy.

I’m not saying I’m a saint when sat in roadworks. I get tetchy, just like anyone. However, when I think about the end result, I tend to feel more tolerant. So long as I’m not in a rush, but hey, I know I should have given myself more time.

Earlier this year, proposed plans were revealed for a £290m upgrade of a 13 mile stretch of the A1 from Morpeth to Ellingham, that will hopefully slash journey times from Newcastle to Edinburgh.

We still have some way to go to the south of the region, with the A1 upgrades in North Yorkshire, but if a trip to Leeds becomes such a smooth ride, are we really going to complain (much)?

IMG_1326
Roadworks. Photo: David Simpson.

Kielder: A jewel in the North East’s crown

PAUL WHITE cycles 26 miles round the shores of the beautiful Kielder Water and despite the ups and downs suggests the challenge is not solely for the enthusiast

Kielder Water
Kielder Water

It was only quite recently that I took my first ever trip to Kielder Forest & Water Park. Considering my global travels, to not have taken the 90-minute drive north seems like something to almost be ashamed of. Especially when you find it is so beautiful.

To the west, it’s a similar distance from home to the Lake District, a journey I’ve made many times. So, why not Kielder?

My wife had mentioned it on many occasions, but I’d simply never got around to it.

However, earlier this year, we got up early one Saturday when the sun was shining, I slung our bikes on the back of the car, and headed off up the A68.

Having recently started a contract with Northumbrian Water, which owns the park, I had decided I finally had to find out what all of the fuss is about.

To say it was a trip I had planned doesn’t mean “well-planned”. Yes, I had read that the Lakeside Way was just over 26 miles long. Surely, that was easily achievable. After all, the name “Lakeside Way” clearly represented a ride that would be flat? No.

Taking a break from Lakeside Way
Taking a break from Lakeside Way

We took it easy and, despite the many ups and downs, rode the distance from Tower Knowe to Tower Knowe in around four hours. It was the first time my wife had been on a bike ride in something like two years, so without being patronising, it is clearly a ride that isn’t solely for the enthusiast. It’s a ride that can be taken as lightly or as seriously as you wish.

There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the wildlife and a stunning art and architecture collection and, around eight miles from the end, the Kielder Waterside Park (previously known as Leaplish) is a great resting stop, where you can enjoy a meal at the Boat Inn. Admittedly, my body wasn’t so happy after an hour’s rest and a nice meal when I decided to set off on those final few miles.

This trip simply scratched the surface of Kielder, where plans are underway to make it the “best in Britain”, with new luxury lodges being developed at the Waterside Park. With the history of Kielder Castle and the area’s thriving art collection, there is a trip to Kielder for all enthusiasms.

Kielder
Kielder

The Kielder Ospreys are a great example of species being reintroduced to our region and, with everything from the tiniest birds through to these beautiful creatures and even buzzards, it’s a place for wildlife lovers as well as adventurers, food fans, history lovers, or just people wanting a great break.

And to think it was all created to help supply water to parts of our region as distant as Teesside.

How long does it take there? (Google Map timings)

  • From Newcastle – 1hr 19m
  • From Durham – 1hr 38m
  • From Sunderland – 1hr 47m
  • From Middlesbrough – 2hr 12m
  • From Berwick – 1h 34m

The Durham “Busk Factor” dilemma

PAUL WHITE presents his entertaining analysis of Durham’s busking auditions which aim to vet the quality of buskers in the city, but who decides?

An interesting item came up on my Facebook feed at the weekend. A couple of musician friends had both posted a link to a Change.org petition against a new way of regulating buskers that is being established by Durham Business Improvement District (BID).

Neither of my musician friends actually busk, but they were vehemently against the idea. I read the introduction to the petition, found that I, too, agreed, and duly signed up.

At the time of writing, it’s 22 names short of 1,000 signatories.

Busker Thomas Donnelly of Chester-le-Street in Durham’s Silver Street: Photo: David Simpson

The essence of the tale behind this petition is that Durham BID is bringing in auditions for people to secure six-month busking permit in Durham City. Currently, no such licence is required to do so.

Having read both the petition and reports in the Durham Times, it seems that local people attending these auditions, alongside representatives of local businesses, the police, etc, will get to vote on which buskers get a permit. It’s either a straight yes or no from the “judges”. How demoralising for someone who has a bad night, or is just starting out to face rejection like that.

It seems the business community isn’t happy with the noise and this is what has started all of this kerfuffle. (Note to certain elements of the business community, when you get a quiet moment in your shop, just listen to some of the rubbish being piped in on your speakers. Scorpio Shoes, where staff have excellent musical taste, are excluded from that last statement.)

Now, having seen who gets voted for on the X Factor, I’m horrified by this prospect. It always seems those talented artists who have worked their backsides off, busking away, playing to one man, his dog and a pool table in local pubs, and who have actually developed a skill set, far too often get voted off in favour of bland, manufactured music and “characters”.

Can you imagine Jedward or Wagner lasting five minutes if they tried busking on Gala day?

Interestingly, my England’s North East colleague, Dave Simpson, nipped down to the city centre and talked to some buskers.

Irish piper Neil Chambers told Dave he wasn’t really against the licence, but his main concern is for the increasing use of pre-recorded music by buskers and I have to agree.

Irish Piper, Neil Chambers of Newcastle on Durham's Framwellgate Bridge. Photo: David Simpson
Irish Piper, Neil Chambers of Newcastle on Framwellgate Bridge. Photo: David Simpson

Neil said: “They should do what Dublin did: ban backing tracks to take it back to what busking should be, creating a nice atmosphere instead of overloud pre-recorded music which a lot of people think is insulting.”

I can’t imagine the “X Factor” style voting panel would agree that backing tracks are a bad thing. You can just imagine Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (surname correct at time of writing – I genuinely had to Google it to check) saying: “Ok Reggie and Bollie, that’s very good, but I need you to play something called a guitar.”

Fair enough, if what this proposal does is eliminate that element of pre-packaged musical hell. Isn’t it better to put efforts into stopping those anti-social people who blast music out of their phones as they walk down the street, or as they travel on public transport? Perhaps they could legalise grabbing those phones from the offending individuals and smashing them into a million pieces. I digress.

What I like about unlicensed busking is that it is, by its nature, rather self-regulating. If buskers are good, they will earn money and return. If they are terrible, they will not, with the possible exception of a busker many of you may be familiar with, who camps himself at the Newcastle side of the Millennium Bridge and is charmingly entertaining in his own inimitable way.

It seems that the members of Durham’s business community who have created the issue by complaining about the noise must not be bothered by the actual noise itself, if the proposed resolution of the situation is for buskers to be licenced. Then it seems it may be a matter of taste and, surely, all these events are likely to do is change the style and, to some extent, quality of the performers. It’s swapping one noise for another and isn’t that just institutionalised discrimination?

Should the petition fail and this goes ahead, I urge all fans of live music, the ones who go down their local when there is a band on, the ones who go to local festivals and open mic nights, to get themselves along to these events en masse and vote for the real talent they think deserves a slot.

But then, if these acts can wow a real live crowd, do they not deserve something a little more than being sent to play outside in the Great British Weather?

*The first Live InDurham busking audition event will be held at Whisky River on Thursday, August 18, from 7pm. Details are available at www.durhambid.co.uk/live.

Views expressed by our bloggers do not necessarily reflect those of England’s North East or Truly Awesome Marketing Ltd

Live music needs…you!

PAUL WHITE speaks up on behalf of small, independently-run music festivals and the talented, hard-working bands that deserve our support

This Sunday marks one of my favourite days on the North East social calendar.

It’s not the first day of the Hoppings. I’m not talking about Sunderland Air Show. I’m not even talking about my annual Cup Final Day outing with “the lads” (none of whom usually have much concern over the result of said match, being largely Sunderland, Newcastle, Everton, cricket and F1 fans).

It’s Middlefest 2016, one of the many small, independently-run, not for profit music festivals that have sprung up in the North East over recent years. It’s small, but growing. They’re expecting up to 1,000 this year.

Middlefest
Middlefest, photo: Art of Noise Photography

Unlike some of the other festivals in the region, there is no big name headline act (though credit to those who are now drawing those names – I still can’t get over the fact that Dodgy have now headlined a show in Shildon). It’s largely local acts who, in the past, have belted out a mix of their own music and covers, performing from the back of a trailer to an audience who sip beer, while lounging on the grass and, as the day progresses, even getting up and dancing.

It’s a chilled day, just as it should be. And the music is good, very good.

Festivals like Middlefest are made possible by the coming together of two groups – those selfless individuals who just want to put on a good event for the public, and those who dare to pick up a guitar or a pair of drumsticks and dream.

We’ve always had both sets of such folk in our region. I started following the local music scene in the late 90s, as a young reporter for The Northern Echo, and found that Darlington and Durham in particular had some great bands and excellent venues. The Filibuster & Firkin in Skinnergate (sometimes running four gigs a week), and O’Neill’s in Duke Street, along with the Tap & Spile, sat at the heart of the Darlington scene, with the Quaker House also coming along as well. In Durham, again O’Neill’s was a fantastic place for a Bank Holiday marathon gig.

Bands like Taller Than, Ethan, Lucas (later Stone Coda), Alex & I, and Teesside’s Little Pink Polliwog were always good for a night’s entertainment and, occasionally, hard-working venue managers, such as the Firkin’s Craig Sharp, would pull through a gem. I recall Sex Pistols legend Glen Matlock, Toploader and Bad Manners among the bands to grace that stage at the time. Let’s not mention Rock Bitch.

I saw Nick Harper play for the first time in the Tap and have been a fan ever since.

Now, we have bands of equal value playing festivals like Middlefest, where recent years’ highlights have included The Silence, Warning! (sadly no more) and Edenthorn, while our scene also boasts the likes of Black Nevada, Twister, Fire Lady Luck, Ten Eighty Trees and amazing singer-songwriters like Hayley McKay and Beth Macari. This is just scratching the surface.

Middlefest music festival
Middlefest, photo: Art of Noise Photography

The problem is, I said earlier that this is made possible by these two groups of people, but it actually requires a third group to get involved as well, and that is the music loving public. It’s easy to sit and think “oh, that sounds nice…but I’m quite comfortable in my armchair”.

Get out and find that live music before it’s gone. These acts and these events need support to keep going. They work a damned sight harder than many of the acts (I say many, not all) who try to make a quick win on TV talent shows, and they choose the difficult route of playing in front of three drunk men and a pool table, a dog if they’re lucky, and working their way up as they slowly get better and their talent is recognised.

Middlefest* is this Sunday, July 24, at Misty Blue Farm, near Spennymoor. Tickets.
*Other festivals are available.

Gazza’s woes

As former North East football star Paul Gascoigne hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons PAUL WHITE argues that we need less shame and more compassion on mental health

I rarely take note of celebrity gossip these days, but I was saddened by the latest chapter in the Paul Gascoigne saga that unfolded this week.

Gazza is a sporting icon, fallen from grace. A tragic comic, some might say. Others, who only remember the antics, might argue the accuracy of the word “grace”, but not those of us who prefer to remember his skill.

Despite historic bitterness and rivalry between fans of our region’s top flight and Championship football clubs, there are some characters who transcend that and are loved and admired for their sporting skill and achievements, regardless of what team you support.

As a Sunderland season ticket holder, I have no qualms about putting Gazza at the top of that list, alongside Sir Bobby Robson.

Gazza is such a character that it is difficult not to be on his side through all the troubles he has experienced and it was heartening to see the positive side of social media, as people flocked to wish him well after this week’s tabloid tale.

But let’s examine that tabloid tale for a moment.

It’s fair to say that when Celebrity X walks out of a club on the arm of Celebrity Y, in front of a group of paparazzi, or Couple Z (list) are snapped on the beach, it’s planned to get the attention of the media. These things rarely happen by accident. Yes, Gazza and celebrity pals, even the non-celebrity friends, played that game in the day.

When a celeb is snapped in a place that you wouldn’t normally expect to find a tabloid photographer, have a think. Does the celeb come out of this well? Yes? Someone on their “team” probably tipped off the photographer. Does the celeb look a state and come out of it badly? Yes? Someone else did.

It’s fair to say that Gazza was stitched up on this occasion. If not by a professional photographer, then by a “citizen snapper” with a smartphone and an eye for a quick buck at someone else’s expense.

Yes, we can all see how heartbreakingly tragic a situation his life has become over the years. Yes, he undoubtedly went out in a dressing gown (sadly, so many people do these days) and I don’t see any point in disputing that it may have been a trip for booze and fags. I don’t even dispute the fact that it is of public interest that someone who is so loved by the British public has fallen so far.

What needs to be considered is the staging of such “shame” pictures that can do nothing but add to the troubles of Gazza.

Mental health and alcohol issues should be treated far more sensitively in the modern age. Gazza has talked about his problems in the past. Let those words be the lesson learned from the fall of a great footballer and entertainer, not these pics of “sick Gazza” in the street in a dressing gown. Sadly, there are too many people out there ready to leap on such imagery and mock someone when they are down and out.

It’s time to treat mental health more compassionately and not as a sideshow.

gazza

www.mind.org.uk