Archives for the month of: June, 2015

  nina simone

Just back from our penultimate Poetry with Friends at The Mission this summer. Even poetry lovers need a break but we’ll be back in the autumn.

Tonight…there was something in the air. In fact those lyrics were in the air. I will reveal the song very soon…

We were all looking forward to tonight’s session. The theme was music and we were invited to bring pieces of music to talk about. Folk brought snacks too and as I type I can feel an adolescent spot developing on my chin after munching crisps and chocolate.

tiger lillies

Gail refused to share the playlist with me in advance. I’m glad. I enjoyed ploughing through party food and both sitting and dancing to the following:

  • Peggy Lee’s version on Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay
  • The Tiger Lillies:  Snip Snip
  • Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al
  • Timi Yuro: Cry
  • Billy Fury: Like I’ve Never Been Gone
  • Stephen Stills: Love the One you’re With
  • Rolling Stones: Sympathy for the Devil
  • The Searchers: Sweets for my Sweet
  • Siouxsie and the Banshees: Hong Kong Garden
  • Bob Dylan: The Times They are A-Changin’
  • Tom Waits: Tom Traubert’s Blues
  • Liquid Gold: Dancy Yourself Dizzy
  • Chris Barber & Ottillie Patterson: I Can’t give You Anything But Love
  • Mike Cooper: Trout Steel
  • Albert Lee’s Country Boy
  • REM: Shiny Happy People.
  • Bruce Davies: Save the Last Dance for Me
  • Nina Simone: I Shall Be Released
  • Pet Shop Boys: Left to my own Devices

mike cooper

What a mix! These songs had stories attached to them linked to teenage memories, university, jobs, loves..and dancing!

liquid gold

“Tonight there’s Something in the air” comes from Liquid Gold’s Dance Yourself Dizzy. I was lucky enough to dance with Ken to this song. Thanks Ken. You are, in the words of Sister Sledge, The Greatest Dancer.

As Shiny Happy People played, Harry told me Kate Pierson from the B52s (wait for it) worked as a barmaid at The Anson pub in Wallsend in 1972. Then he checked it up on the internet so it MUST be true.

kate pierson

Ken told me the singer of Liquid Gold now runs an antique shop in Reigate. If Ken says so it MUST be true too!

It was a great night and we overran by almost half an hour.

Next week is our final Poetry with Friends on Tuesday night before the summer break. We will be back in The Station Masters’ Community Wildlife Garden. You wanna join us? Please pre-book by emailing


Tonight they’re turning on the heat
Tonight you’re in for such a treat
Tonight, put on your dancin’ feet
And dance, dance, dance


Brian Sewell on a sofa with his dogs at home, paintings behind

Who can forget Evening Standard art snob Brian Sewell’s upturned nose at the very idea of an exhibition in Gateshead but not London. That was almost a decade ago and since then the Turner Prize has been held in Gateshead’s Baltic.

I don’t suppose Brian thinks too much about the art scene up here in the North East but I wonder what he’d make of my afternoon and evening. I visited two galleries in central Newcastle hosting new exhibitions and had lots of “oh hello!” experiences when bumping into folk I knew (and sometimes only thought I knew).

It was like an extended party across two venues. It was a Geordie Glastonbury but with art and photography on the two main stages instead of music. And no need for wellies.

Firstly a rushed visit to the Hatton Gallery for Anthony Gormley’s new exhibition opening today, Space Stations. I arrived with less than half an hour to spare before closing time. Apparently it’s an exhibition “of works on paper by Antony Gormley in which the artist seeks to reconcile the body with its habitat and architecture with anatomy, making drawings wherein the body is treated as a space within space.”


I liked it but not the way I loved the maps and industrial diagrams from Tyne and Wear Museums dotted around the walls. I loved clever mechanical diagrams by a 17 year old Victorian called Harry Noble. What was his story, I wondered.

I will return to spend more time with Gormley (and noble Noble) but sadly not on Tuesday evening when the official launch takes place and (gasp!) Anthony gives a talk for FREE! For more information visit

From the Hatton I scampered over to the Laing Art Gallery for the preview night of For Ever Amber. This exhibition opens tomorrow and is the first major account of the AmberSide Collection which has been based on Newcastle’s Quayside for almost 40 years.

The title of the exhibition is taken from an inscription by Henri Cartier-Bresson on a photograph that he donated to the Amber collection.

The Laing was choc a block with “known faces” eager to see the photos and like me, wondering where the free bar was. Turns out it didn’t exist but that didn’t matter. We were all there to support AmberSide. Honest!

It looks like an amazing exhibition but it was so busy all I could do was snatch little peeks of photographs by Graham Smith, Chris Killip, Weegee, August Sander and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen. I will have to go back when I can get up close to the photos.

It runs until mid September with tie in films to be screened at nearby Tyneside Cinema and a conference in July called Future Presence which will explore documentary practices and possibilities.

for ever amber 001

For more information visit

“Will it, won’t it rain?” I asked over and over yesterday morning as I prepped for our second Poetry with Friends session at The Station Masters’ Community Wildlife Garden next to Whitley Bay Metro.

My trademark optimism allowed a flask to be filled with sugary tea. Yes we would jolly well start the session in the garden and run to nearby cafe, Olives if the rain started.


The rain came down like stair rods…after our session ended so we got to enjoy two hours of poetry and chat in the garden. And Geoff brought choc ices to share. Yum!

We discussed gardens, the proposed Westminster Abbey stone floor memorial to Philip Larkin and Simon Armitage’s appointment as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.

Geoff shared one of Armitage’s poems, Poundland which describes a shop manager as having “A Face Like Doncaster.” But Simon! A shop manager’s lot is not a happy one, you know. Academic posts might not produce faces like Doncaster but brow-beaten middle managers have every right to look like Doncaster..or any other Yorkshire town you care to mention.

Pauline’s recital of The Roman Centurion’s Song by Rudyard Kipling hit the spot. I was moved by Kipling’s words, the thought of how hard life must have been for the soldier and by Pauline’s reading. The phrase “June’s long-lighted days” comes from the poem.

We enjoyed listening to the poems as well as the sounds around us including passing metros, wood pigeons and the distant sound of a lawnmower. Sounds like a cue for a Larkin poem…

The full list of poems:

  • Cut Grass by Philip Larkin
  • The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
  • Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
  • Poundland by Simon Armitage
  • The Roman Centurion’s Song by Rudyard Kipling
  • Spring Quiet by Christina Rossetti
  • I Have Started to Say by Philip Larkin
  • The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
  • Ride the Breeze by Simon Bridgewood
  • Sheep Fair Day by Kerry Hardie
  • The Rain it Raineth by Charles Bowen (authorship in question…)
  • To Di For by Geoff
  • A Bitterness by Mary Oliver
  • Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf by Roald Dahl
  • Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost


Lots of Mary Oliver. Oh we love Mary Oliver! Perhaps we should write and tell her how much she is appreciated here in North Tyneside.

Thanks to Sara Lee at The Station Masters’ Garden for sorting out the chairs for us. I think we almost persuaded her to join us at another session in the garden. I’ll keep on coaxing her! We will return on Tuesday 7th July at 7pm and on Thursday 16th July at 11 am.


Before that Poetry with Friends at The Mission this coming Tuesday 30th June is all about music. We will be sharing a few of our favourite tunes. Who will start dancing first? I’ve got my money on a couple of likely candidates. Book yourself a place by contacting Gail on 07752356880 or email

Finally if you’ve never visited the Station Masters’ Garden then shame on you! Check out the website  as well as facebook


Last Tuesday Poetry with Friends at The Mission transferred to The Station Masters’ Community Wildlife Garden next to Whitley Bay Metro Station. It was the first of four visits by Happy Planet’s Poetry with Friends groups to the garden as it celebrates its own Year of Art in 2015.

The weather was a worry but thankfully the rain held off. As the night set in we needed blankets and cups of sweet tea to keep us warm but…it was worth it. Great poems and wonderful conversation.

Attendees brought their favourite poems including work by Dorothy Parker, D.H. Lawrence, Shakespeare, Gavin Ewart and Lewis Carroll plus self-penned work by Linda, Elizabeth and Ken.

station master

I took my usual pile of books but read from only one: Limehaven by Vicky Arthurs. This is my current favourite poetry book. I can’t quote from Vicky’s introduction as I’ve lent my copy to Elizabeth. The collection is marvellous. It’s a tribute to Vicky’s grandparents and is full of well-written, heart-felt beautiful poems. I love it and that’s why I chose so many poems from it. Check out Vicky’s website


Oh yes and it was Bloomsday the 16th June and the annual celebration of James Joyce and his book, Ulysses. Last Tuesday was also the 59th wedding anniversary of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath who were married in St George the Martyr Church in Holborn on Bloomsday. I always think of them as I walk past the church on my regular visits to the capital.

st georges

Poetry with Friends returns to the Station Master’s Garden this Thursday 25th from 11 am to 1pm and we’ll be back for another Tuesday evening and Thursday morning in July. Thanks to Sara Lee for sorting out the seating for us last Tuesday. Much appreciated.

Poetry with Friends at The Mission is back in the usual Lower Rudyerd Street venue next Tuesday June 30th. Check Happy Planet’s website

and facebook page for more information


I’ve mentioned this writer before.

I love the consistent and prolific Pilgham Platz blog.

This week’s tale, The Collector is well worth checking out


“Nurtured in storms the infant year” one of the poems (by Henry Pye)  shared in Poetry with Friends at The Mission on Tuesday May 26th.


The subject matter was Weather, suggested by Linda. We brought and shared poems by Jessica Wortley, Paul Summers, Martin Newell,  Andy Croft, Roger McGough, Michael Longley, Helen Dunmore, Simon Armitage, Ted Hughes, Ruth Fainlight, Wendy Cope and everybody’s fave, Anon.


Alan shared home grown poems, picked that afternoon from his creative allotment and the conversation moved from how to write poems to climate, the weather, “quasi mystical experiences”, gardening, ageing and Gilbert and George.

Alan made us write a line each to produce a poem on the spot and we revved ourselves up for our next session this coming tuesday evening in The Station Masters’ Garden in Whitley Bay.

Here’s the poem we created together:

I’ve never played on Newcastle’s right wing
Goal, goal, goal, win, win, win!
The Ref blows his whistle, it’s the red card for me
I shoot, I score, I make pots of money
And whether you like it, a little or a lot
I earn more than David Cameron
More than a doctor dentist or surgeon
Cos I am a bank nurse on £3,000 a shift
Social housing? Not me, I’m buying to let!


Before bloggers we had diarists. Here are two entries from diaries written in London over 160 and 350 years respectively. Both taken from The Independent on Sunday 31st May 2015.


4th June 1853. Arthur Munby poet and barrister writes: “I walked home about 4 am broad daylight. The street scenes at that hour, especially at the top of Haymarket, were quite Hogarthian. The last stragglers were reeling out of the Piccadilly & talking or squabbling outside; two gentlemen in evening dress, a few unwashed foreigners, several half-drunken prostitutes, one of whom, reeling away, drops her splendid white bonnet in the gutter & another dances across the street, showing her legs above the knee.”

gin alley

5th June 1661. Samuel Pepys writes: “This morning did give my wife £4 to lay out upon lace and other things for herself. Sir W Pen and I went out with Sir R Slingsby to bowls in his alley, and there was good sport. I took my flageoloet and played upon the leads in the garden, where Sir W Pen came out in his shirt…and there we stayed talking and singing and drinking great drafts of claret, and eating botargo and bread and butter till twelve at night, it being moonshine; and so to bed, very nearly fuddled.”


What do you do if you’re a newish dance artist or theatre company in the North East keen to be reviewed? It’s hard to get your name in the local magazines and papers and online.  That’s why you need to get in touch with The North East Artist Development Network. They will send a reviewer to write about your latest work and publish the review online.


NEADN  is led by a small group of organisations committed to support artists to develop their work. It grew out of the NewcastleGateshead Cultural Venues Creative Programmers group coming together with the North East Venues group to form an independent network.

The Network’s vision is to make the North East the best place in the UK for artists to develop work, by creating a strong and effective artist development infrastructure that not only retains talent in the region, but also attracts talent to the region.

The Network secured funding which is allowing a select band of reviewers (I’m one of them) the chance to get out and about across the region to review work and get paid for our time. This is crucial. I began my working life at Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle. I attended tons of gigs and got paid for writing about bands. Brilliant! After university I was employed by magazines and newspapers to interview bands as well as review recorded material and gigs.

The internet’s changed arts criticism for bad and good. Yes anyone can tweet and blog about films and concerts but there is a place for constructive criticism by reviewers. And they should be  paid for their efforts.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reviewing for NEADN and look forward to more opportunities in the coming months.

For more information about NEADN  and you can read my recent review of FRESH North East at The Late Shows.

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