Tag Archives: Darlington

The River Tees: Viking frontier

The Viking history of the River Tees is explored in a series of YouTube videos by David Simpson.

Low Force waterfall
Low Force waterfall, Teesdale. Photo © David Simpson 2018

In an English region where borders and frontiers have shaped history more than any other, the River Tees is one part of the North East that’s often overlooked. Yet this valley has one of the most distinct and varied histories within the region and was as much a frontier as the Tyne, Hadrian’s Wall, the Cheviot Hills or County Durham’s ‘Land of the Prince Bishops’.

The story of the North East role as a frontier is covered in our new You Tube series: The Five Frontiers with four short videos covering each of five frontiers from the Tees to the Tweed.

Surprisingly, Scotland’s borders once stretched to the Tees and in the first of four videos covering the Tees we look at this legacy and the influence of the Baliol and Bruce families, both of whom once dominated the Tees valley and both of whom would produce Scottish kings. We discover how the Tees became a short-lived border for Scotland and became a focus for Scottish raids that sometimes bypassed much of the region to focus on the Tees.

The Tees was not just a Scottish frontier, however. In fact the earlier ‘frontier’ history of the valley is crucial to understanding the role of the North East’s distinct history and role as a borderland. The revelation of the river’s role in this respect is revealed through an exploration of the Viking period when the Tees became a distinct cultural frontier that separated off the rest of the region and helped form the North East’s distinct identity of which the Tees itself formed a part.

Viking settlement in the Tees valley divided the Kingdom of Northumbria into two parts with much of the Viking settlement falling upon Yorkshire and stretching only a little to the north of the Tees itself.

In the first of the four videos covering the Tees we explore the period when the Tees became the Scotland border before heading into the earlier period of Viking settlement that would partly inspire the nineteenth century Scottish poet, Sir Walter Scott in his Teesdale-themed work ‘Rokeby’. Scott partly draws on Viking place-names and themes including the Norse inspired river and stream-names: Balder, Thorsgill Beck and of course the famous ‘force’ waterfalls with their Viking terminology. Scott’s poem is set in a much later period – the Civil War – but Scott seems to have understood the earlier role of the Tees as a frontier drawing on its distinct Viking place-name nomenclature.

In our second video covering the Tees we see how two of the most famous Viking Kings to reign within England had associations with the Tees. Eric Bloodaxe met his end here in this valley as a result of a political intrigue associated with the old fault line within the Kingdom of Northumbria that lay along the River Tees.

The river separated the political sphere of influence of the ‘Kings’ of Bamburgh from the Viking kings of York and the downfall of Bloodaxe really marked the beginning end of the end for Northumbria itself. The other great and powerful Viking king associated with the valley is Cnut, the Danish king of all England who held land within the valley which he bestowed upon the Community of St Cuthbert at Durham.

The third of the videos covering the Viking heritage of the Tees looks at the Viking Wapentake of Sadberge – the Viking territory that lay just north of north of the river as well as exploring Viking place-names along the entire course of the valley.

South of the river we explore the strong Viking associations in the Cleveland area, focused upon the prominent hill of Roseberry Topping, once called ‘Odin’s Berge’ a former centre of Viking pagan worship. In this video we also look at the legacy of the unique and fascinating Viking hogback sculptures that are unique to Britain and most significantly focused on the Tees valley and neighbouring Northallerton ‘Allertonshire’ area of North Yorkshire.

In the fourth video again exploring the history of the Viking valley of the Tees we find the story of the Sockburn Worm, a probable mythological legacy associated with the Vikings and set within a loop of the river that has significant Viking links as well as connections to the Christian heritage of Northumbria. Finally, downstream from Sockburn within another loop of the Tees we visit the town of Yarm where the remarkable discovery of Britain’s first Viking helmet find was made.

At some point the Tees-themed videos will be followed by more videos covering the other frontiers of the region, namely Northumberland’s border country; the River Tyne and Hadrian’s Wall Country; County Durham’s Land of the Prince Bishops and of course the region’s magnificent frontier coast.

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

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.