Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Some time ago when I was first researching the possibility of a move to Newcastle I stumbled across a fact that almost put me off the place. According to the brilliantly inspired source of fictional knowledge known as Wikipedia, Newcastle is one of the driest cities in the UK, with an average of only 121 rainy days per year.

Now I say this is something that almost put me off the city as I am a man who likes his rain, however I can confirm that this fact is utter rubbish. It’s rained here non-stop for over a week now. In fact I was almost laughed out of town by estate agents I was brave enough to share this nugget with.

To honor the weather in verse I headed to the Lit & Phil yesterday evening for a reading by some of the UK’s top poets including Don Paterson, author of 2009 Forward Poetry Prize winning collection ‘Rain.’ Incredible to see three giants of contemporary poetry (w/ Jo Shapcott and Sean O'Brien) in support at this fundraiser for the beautiful Lit & Phil which is in need of various improvements to bring the 1825 built library in line with public expectations.

Meanwhile, the rain keeps falling…

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Joanna Newsom @ The Sage, Gateshead

Joanna Newsom has always been a surprise. From the time in Cambridge where Melanie and I sat entranced listening to an enthusiastic barman describe his latest find, ‘The Milk Eyed Mender,’ to the time I discreetly heard rumour of a three disc extravaganza appearing in under a month (‘Have One On Me’) to the time I stumbled upon her performing at The Sage in Gateshead following a haste move to the North.

Seeing Newsom in person is another surprise itself. Once master of playful childish voices, her voice has now grown stronger and more commanding and the three-minute ditties of ‘Milk Eyed Mender’ have given way to lavish fantasy fueled classic arrangements (courtesy of musicians and composers Ryan Francesconi and Neal Morgan). ‘Y’s’ was a vast departure when it hit the shelves in 2006, containing sixteen-minute tracks that had more in common with prog rock than the folk-pop brush critics usually used to describe her sound.

I have to mention the poetry of her words, ‘your soul is something I stir into my tea’. Small gems thread into detailed and arguably personal adventures. ‘In California’ she seemingly dismisses her early stuff ‘My home, on the old Milk Lane/where the darkness does fall so fast/it feels like some kind of mistake’. Her words shape-shift and envelope you till you can’t ‘remember your own name’ to quote set highlight ‘Good Intentions Paving Co,’ a song that sends shivers through my face everytime she wavers into ‘and the tilt of this strange nation,’ before the track polishes off with a fantastically hazy trombone solo. In a special touch the violinists downed bows to click their rings against empty bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale, a nice nod to the locals.

In a set drawing heavily from ‘Have One On Me’ Newsom also dusted off ‘Inflammatory Writ’, ‘The Book of Right On’ and ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’ as well as ‘Cosmia’ and ‘Monkey & Bear’ from ‘Ys’. A perfect set would it have been if only she had included ‘Baby Birch’ and ‘This Side of the Blue,’ but that gives me an excuse to see her again one day.

Supporting Newsom, who brought him out of ‘semi retirement’ was folk legend Roy Harper. Still strong after 40+ years in the music business Harper treated us to a range of classics from 1970’s release ‘Flat Baroque and Berserk’ including ‘Don’t You Grieve’ and ‘Francesca’ to more modern releases like ‘The Green Man’. All tracks were accompanied by top introductions and political/spiritual disagreements with the topical Papal visit, Harper rather slyly enjoying the Pope’s label for us atheists as ‘militant extremists’.

All round a fantastic night, and my first proper gig in the Newcastle/Gateshead area. It’s important though to state this gig at the Sage was on the southside in Gateshead, where we’ve recently lost a car park. Make sure you don’t mix the two up…

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jog on the Tyne

Imagine fifty four thousand people running across a bridge. Next consider their clothing, a Bananaman outfit perhaps? Or a well built fella in a tutu, a bumble bee suit, Batman and Robin, a unicorn hat, where’s wally, panadas, firemen, donkeys, matching chickens? Then conjure the sounds, the chants, the claps, yells whistles and bells, the oggy oggy oggy’s and the oi oi oi’s, a band playing Georgie folk tunes on a roundabout in Gateshead, a drumming group and the piecing overhead cry of the red arrows dispersing red white and blue over the Tyne, and you get the 30th Great North Run from Newcastle to South Shields, the North’s answer to the London Marathon.

It can get a little rocky on the Tyne bridge as the joggers still fresh after a mile in clamber over to the clapping revelry of watchers and supporters. At points its like being on a boat as it bobs along the waves.

Since beginning in 1981 the Great North Run is the largest half marathon in Europe, and estimates that over 1 million runners will have completed the course by the time it reaches its 35th anniversary.

Up with the larks this morning to take pictures I was greeted all round with good spirit, and being new to Newcastle it was a welcome pleasure in contrast to my London roots. The run really is an institution up here and one I hope to participate in this time next year. A jog on the Tyne sure is all fine, all fine.