All posts by Paul White

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

Beer Blessed

Beer Blogger, PAUL WHITE explores the region’s thriving range of craft beers and microbreweries

poetsdaypint

The North East is a fantastic place for food and drink.

We are blessed.

Whatever your culinary preference, there is something for you, and you no longer have to focus on Newcastle, and events like Eat! Great restaurants to suit all wallet sizes are now widespread across the region.

Likewise, we have some amazing drinks being produced in the North East, from Durham Gin to Wylam Brewery.

The craft brewing movement is as prolific here as it is anywhere. I use the term “craft”, because it is now in common usage, but many brewers will tell you that it has been around for years. Black Sheep Brewery, just a short drive south of the region, for example, will argue that what founder Paul Theakston was doing when he established the brewery in 1991 was craft – it was challenging bland beer.

People may look at the North East and think of our brown ales, from Newcastle and Sunderland (Double Maxim), but that’s just scratching the surface. Since I started my blog, Poets Day Pint, at the start of the year, I’ve blogged about a different beer most weeks and, both “professionally” and socially, I’ve sampled 67 different beers (source: my Untappd app, with which I check-in with each beer – correct at time of writing, almost certainly out of date at time of reading).

Many of these have been from the North East and I’ve found some fantastic beer. Wylam’s Jakehead IPA has become a go-to beer, I’ve found a lovely lemon and vanilla oatmeal stout from Northern Alchemy, I’ve rediscovered the joy of Camerons’ Strongarm, and stumbled into the Black Paw Brewery to sample its range, which is now matched with the outstanding food at the Michelin-starred Raby Hunt restaurant.

This is just a flavour, with microbreweries seemingly to be found in every town and village.

My urge to you, dear reader, is to give these beers a try, whether you see them on a bar, in a pub fridge, or in a supermarket. If you’re passing a local brewery, stop to see if it’s open. It may be selling its drinks, or even giving tours.

There’s a joy to be had in finding a new beer. It’s even better if you know it’s locally produced and that, simply by choosing it over a mass-produced generic “name”, you’re helping the local community and a small business.

Visit Poets Day Pint, a jargon free beer blog for the layman, not the drayman.