Local newspaper, The Journal’s annual Culture Awards have always grabbed my attention and I’ve found myself mostly arguing against rather than agreeing with the choice of winners.


Last month I saw that this year’s event, which took place last night, was going to be held in The Sage. Frankie and the Heartstrings were lined up to play and tickets were a tenner so I thought I’d get myself a couple and drag along a chum.

sage hall one

The Sage is an amazing venue and I always love listening to music in Hall One which is where the award ceremony took place. I’m not going to write an article about the evening. If you want to read one click here http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/culture-awards-2013-find-out-7000341

I was rooting for chum Allison Davies who sadly lost out to Frankie and the Heartstrings in Newcomer of the Year Award. It’s a shame Alli didn’t win but Frankie’s business venture Pop Recs Ltd deserves recognition.

The band kicked off the second half of the evening. They were great and I was chuffed to find myself sitting next to the parents of frontman Frankie! Rock and roll! http://frankieandtheheartstrings.com


I was delighted to see Pete Mortimer of Iron Press bound on stage in purple beetlecrushers to collect the award for “Best Event Tyneside”. This was for his marvellous Iron Age Festival…the literary festival with a difference held last May.

pete wins

iron press

I was unimpressed by “surprise” guest Fern Britton. The shoe horning in of her plug for a BBC TV programme seemed ham fisted to me. I had a snooze but was woken up by the amazing Mighty Doonans. What a blast! Irish/Geordie multi-instrumental/multi-talented bunch. Well worth checking out.

Mighty Doonans

Finally I was moved by the Northern Sinfonia’s performance. The Sage is now home to the Northern Sinfonia and they were presented with the evening’s Special Contribution Award.

Congratulations to all winners and nominees. It was a great night, even if the live streaming/perpetual invitation to tweet got a bit boring.

banana boxes 1

It’s Thursday. Thoughts turn to prepping for a weekend of secondhand bookselling.

My home is full of banana boxes. Why? Because banana boxes are the perfect size to fill with books and take to Tynemouth market or any book fair for that matter.

I’m not the only stallholder who carries their wares to Tynemouth in these boxes but where do we get our boxes from? Now that would be telling….

This coming weekend is especially busy with the first Tynemouth Station Book Fair of the year on Sunday. Over 50 booksellers selling thousands of books from 10 am to 4pm. There’ll be a heck of a lot of ‘narna boxes hidden under the tables.

The banana boxes in my home have added cardboard and banana tones to the building’s unique odour.

After packing for the weekend I will need a walk by the sea to smell seaweed, chips and the salty sea.

banana boxes 2

North Shields has changed beyond belief over the past 50 years. Coalmining and fishing industries died leaving a once thriving town twiddling its thumbs, wondering what to do with itself.


Folk left town or stopped visiting and pubs, churches and shops lie empty. Shields (as it is affectionately called by locals) ain’t the town it used to be but I’m not writing it off.

Last year I was pleased to support Karen Mitchell’s creative endeavours, The Ballarat Studios, housed in a former pub in North Shields. Yesterday I visited the town’s newest creative venture, Happy Planet Creative Arts CIC and chatted to Gail Curry who set the organisation up in a former evangelical church, The Town Mission.

The building is on Lower Rudyerd Street and has amazing views of the river from Happy Planet’s windows. Happy Planet has just hosted a couple of very successful open days and is offering regular social creative sessions open to all.

Moonkwayk Studios’ Anne Proctor is running regular intaglio printing sessions on Saturdays and there will be regular workshops and taster classes relating to felting, jewellery making, hooky & proggy plus creative writing.

For more information visit http://www.happyplanetcreativearts.org.uk/p/about-us.html and like on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Happy-Planet-Creative-Arts-CIC/741096479291396

The view from Happy Planet Creative Arts CIC is awesome

morning from th studio

I lived in London for 15 years and spent another two living in Cambridge and commuting into the Big Smoke for work.

When I first moved there aged 22 I was scared of, overwhelmed and intimidated by London. Over the years I came to love, respect and understand the capital.

I moved back to the North East almost five years ago and London is now a place I visit for business and pleasure. I like visiting for two to three days at a time. This gives me time to meet a friend or two, visit an art gallery and have a mooch around the markets, bookshops and charity shops.

I’m ashamed to admit that I never visited John Soane’s house behind Holborn when I lived in London. I recall driving past it one evening about 15 years ago and seeing Gilbert and George standing on the steps. They waved in unison as I went past. Quite a sight.

john soane

Architect Soane’s house is now a museum. There is no entry fee so there is no excuse…you must visit. It is an extremely British, dare I say it London experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit and will go again. http://www.soane.org/

After visiting the house, head north through Bloomsbury to Skoob Books. What a great bookshop. Open til 8pm http://www.skoob.com

Soane and Skoob are jewels in London’s unique, ornate crown. These jewels are easier for me to appreciate and enjoy as a frequent visitor.

Never close the door on your past. Celebrate teenage achievements.

Simon Mckay was 15 years old when he started his punk fanzine Eccentric Sleevenotes with his mate, Stephen. It was Tyneside’s answer to Sniffing Glue.

Simon stopped interviewing bands and started his own, Said Liquidator. I first met him when I interviewed him for Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle back in 1989.

We became friends and Said Liquidator came to visit me when I lived and studied in Hull. In fact here’s a photo taken on that visit back in spring 1991.

Said Liquidator

Can you spot the poet?

Now Simon presents a weekly post punk radio show, has produced an online archive of Eccentric Sleevenotes and he hangs out with Fenella Fielding. They also present radio shows together and have an on air chemistry that is a delight to hear.

Check out Simon’s website http://www.eccentricsleevenotes.com/ and Fenella’s http://www.fenellafielding.com/

peter mortimer in purple top

A few years ago Peter “Iron Press” Mortimer used to host a regular spoken word and music evening called Free as a Bard at the Trojan Rooms in Whitley Bay. I started attending soon after moving to the coast. I liked the fact it was on a Sunday evening and that there was free fruit on every table. I also liked Pete’s choice of poets and musicians. They always seemed to fit well together: Sheree Mack, The Creels and more.

The final workshop for Pieces from Eight took place in Pete’s amazing home in Cullercoats last Spring. I suggested Pete revive Free as a Bard ( or FAAB) and one of the Pieces from Eight poets suggested I help him. So I did. Artist Karen Mitchell who used to run The Ballarat in North Shields also got involved. The result was tonight’s Free as a Bard event at Whitley Bay’s Jam Jar Cinema.

FAAB poster 001

Poets Eileen Jones and W N Herbert performed alongside singer songwriter Ditte Elly. What a night! Tickets sold out yesterday so it was standing room only for those that turned up tonight. Here’s my handwritten note I stuck on the door

FAAB sell out 001

For more info on FAAB check out Facebook https://www.facebook.com/FreeAsABard and the wonderful Jam Jar Cinema here http://www.jamjarcinema.com/

It was Paula Rego’s birthday yesterday. I love her work but Anne’s not a fan. Who is Anne and why should it matter what she thinks?

Well Anne is Anne Proctor, printmaker and my artistic collaborator. What she thinks about art, politics and the price of fish (or fuel) concerns and interests me.

We were discussing our latest collaboration yesterday at Tynemouth market and the conversation turned to Durham cathedral. I mentioned my love of Rego’s painting in the cathedral and she disagreed with me. That’s great. It’s important to disagree with one’s collaborator. We agree on the important things like where our latest project is heading.

And where is it heading? Ah well that would be telling…

Why not check out Anne’s blog for clues http://anneproctor.wordpress.com/

paula rego photo

How lovely to have been involved in photographer Simone Rudolphi’s first Sunday Salon.

Simone brought a small group of like-minded folk together in her home on Sunday evening. Attendees were offered drinks, delicious homemade avocado soup and divine chocolates from a local chocolatier.

They joined me in Simone’s front room and listened as I performed some of my poems including Swifts Screech and Circle in the Afternoon Sun and my Hartley Pit Disaster poem, History Lesson. I performed it ahead of the disaster’s 152nd anniversary tomorrow.

I also read some of my longer autobiographical pieces published in a variety of local publications including Michael Chaplin’s Come and See The Beguiling Story of the Tyneside Cinema.

I arrived in Durham on Sunday afternoon. It was wonderful to wander through a dark and gloomy city to the cathedral and touch base with St Cuthbert, Fenwick Lawson’s Pieta plus this wonderful painting by Paula Rego.

paula rego

I talked with one of the cathedral’s senior steward about his life as a miner and mining engineer. He also told me about Midge, the Domino playing dog from Teesdale. True story.


The next Sunday Salon takes place in February. For more information follow her on Twitter @SimonesSalon


When faced with existential crisis I ask myself the following two questions:

“What would Jimi Hendrix do?”


and “What would PJ Harvey do?”


These are the only questions I need to steer me to the Right Decision.

I love Jimi and thank him for the musical legacy he left behind. As for Polly Jean, well I jump on any interviews she allows, recordings she puts out and try to see her perform live when I can.

I turned on last Thursday’s Today programme and was immediately drawn in by John Pilger talking about the media. I wasn’t surprised to learn that PJ Harvey was the guest editor of that day’s show.

I listened to about half an hour before I had to leave the house but I’ve listened to more of the programme on i player. What an amazing programme. The theme is censorship and Polly has recruited an impressive range of guests.

The show is available on I player for the next year. I urge you to listen, particularly John Pilger’s piece 1 hour and 45 mins in.


In 2013 I started collaborating with artist Anne Proctor http://anneproctor.wordpress.com/ Through Anne I met the good folk at Willy Nillie in Chester le Street http://willynillie.org.uk/

In 2013 I got to meet and work with Karen Mitchell at The Ballarat Studios and was involved in the 40th anniversary of Iron Press organised by Peter Mortimer http://www.ironpress.co.uk/index.html

In 2014 Karen, Pete Mortimer and I present Free as a Bard, an evening of spoken word and music at Whitley Bay’s Jam Jar Cinema on Sunday February 2nd http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/search/searchPerformance.asp?performance_id=88111&sid=

The evening features poets W N Herbert, Eileen Jones and singer/songwriter Ditte Elly.

In 2014 I strongly suspect I will be working with Anne and Willy Nillie again.

Oh yes and what is happening in a Durham semi on Sunday January 12th? Follow Simone on Twitter @SimonesSalon and find out…

Happy New Year



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.