Keith Haring at Tate Liverpool

I’d decided to tie my Liverpool visit into not just theatre but the Keith Haring exhibition at the Tate Liverpool, a gallery I have never been to. The show itself was fantastic – a huge range of material curated with real care. It was of course heart-breaking to revisit his work: an activist in the fight against HIV/Aids, Haring died of the disease at just 31 – but it was great to see such a major retrospective of his work.

Also at the Tate was Constellations, a fascinating collection that included pieces by Warhol, Miro and Kandinsky, though the pop art floor did little for my hangover.

Luckily an avocado and halloumi brioche at Peabody Kitchen sorted that out, allowing me to have a wander around the docks in the sunshine before taking a slow stroll back into town for my train.

All in all, Liverpool quite won me over – can’t wait to go back.

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Saltwater Reading at Goldtapped

I moved North to avoid the heat. I’m overweight, pale and Northern, for god’s sake, I don’t do heat. So I was more than a little pissed off when, having spent the morning feeling smug at all the ‘oh god I am melting’ posts from my London and European friends, I stepped outside and realised that, yes, actually, Newcastle was also very hot. (I blame not being used to double glazing: I hadn’t quite twigged it keeps the place cool as well as hot.)

So I admit I wasn’t in the best of moods when I headed into town – which was mobbed, since there was a con on, a university open day and a cruise ship docked – not helped by the fact I managed to get lost on the way to the very event I had dragged my increasingly sweaty arse out of the house for.Still, after a mere handful of wrong turns, I managed to locate Goldtapped Gallery, the place I was supposed to be for a reading (which is actually… um, super easy to find). I admit I was there less because I was interested in the main speaker – author of Saltwater, Jessica Andrews, whose work I wasn’t familiar with – and more to support a fellow theatre bod, reviewer Lauren Vevers, a talented young writer who I have met a few times at various press nights since I moved back. But I’m pleased I went.

Andrews’ book is partially set in the North East, and her descriptions of vintage shops in town and Washington parties felt instantly familiar to me from my college days (I had friends who lived out in Washington, which seemed distant and exotic to me at the time – no, really – despite the fact I spent most of my time there in bus stops). She was joined not just by Vevers, who read a moving essay about her family, but also novelist Carmen Marcus, who read from her novel How Saints Die, and poet Oliver Doe. Despite the venue being a bit crammed – clearly the event was a bit more popular than they anticipated – all the readings were great, the writers all personable, and the space thankfully cooler than I feared. I might even have indulged in a few book purchases… (I know, I know. I’ll stop soon, I promise…)

Vevers will be featured in a forthcoming anthology by 3 of Cups press; you can check out Oliver Doe on his website.

And obviously if you are interested in North East writers feel free to check out MEEEEEEEEE.

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Words Weekend – new festival coming to Gateshead

If you follow this blog, you may remember that I went to the Archive Symposium for Open Clasp recently, a local theatre group dedicated to the stories of marginalised women and girls, whose play don’t forget the birds was one of my theatrical highlights last year. (I was also lucky enough to chat to the company’s Artistic Director Catrina McHugh for an upcoming feature, which made me even more interested in what they do).So I was excited to hear that they will be screening their filmed play Rattle Snake at a new festival coming to the North East this December. Words Weekend is a spoken word festival that’s being held at Sage Gateshead 6-8 December.

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Although, to be honest the phrase ‘spoken word festival’ would normally be enough to have me jumping in the Tyne (don’t @ me – I’ve sat through a LOT of bad poetry by posh boys in my time), this actually looks great. Guests include Grayson Perry, Ben Okri and Kerry Hudson, whose book Lowborn I am currently enjoying, as well as Candice Carty-Williams, whose novel Queenie is on my wishlist (not least because it has one of the best covers I have seen in ages!)

Local talent is represented not just by Open Clasp, who’ll be doing a Q&A with the film, but also by Kema Kay, the charismatic young rapper/actor whose play Shine I enjoyed when it was at Live and who I think is a genuine talent to watch.

Even better, the festival has a strong focus on accessibility: of more than 50 events, 25% are free, and all are accessible and BSL interpreted. See you there?

Details here:

Warhol in Edinburgh

As per my previous post, I was in Edinburgh this week. Mainly this was to see a show – Cora Bissett’s excellent What Girls Are Made of – but it also provided a great chance to catch up with friends.

My friend A and her husband moved back to Scotland a few years ago, and I hadn’t seen their new place since, so A & I met for drinks and dinner before the show (an OK-but not-stellar chips and halloumi burger at Red Squirrel, mostly because it was handy for the theatre, though it was a perfectly fine stopping point: friendly staff, very decent selection of veggie options). I stayed the night at their gorgeous house, which gave me major home envy: my room (just one of their guest rooms!) had an en suite, and the whole place was just so lovely and elegantly fitted out, I am now planning to secretly move in and see how long till they notice (it’s a big house – could be a while)…

A and I stayed up chatting till the early hours, so I admit I was more than a little hungover when I went back into town the next day to meet my friend D, through from Glasgow. Still, we didn’t let that deter us from taking in some culture, and decided to head to the Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art.

It’s been years since I have been – I’ve never even set foot in Modern Two – but we started there, keen to see I want to be a machine, an exhibition of Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi pieces that included many of the famous Warhol prints and movie posters. I’m less familiar with Paolozzi, but his work was a fascinating counterpoint, and the exhibit is well laid out across five rooms, with plenty of explanation as to what’s what and why it matters. It’s also free, which is always a bonus.

NOW at Modern One was more of a mixed bag. A selection of works by Monster Chetwynd, Henry Coombes, Moyna Flannigan, Betye Saar, and Wael Shawky, it covered most of the ground floor, and some bits took me more than others, though as again it was free, I was happy to have a mooch.

D and I then had lunch and a wander, before he had to head back to Glasgow, so before my evening train I met A again for a few drinks in a pub off the Royal Mile (we powered bravely through our hangovers). The pub had a sign on the bar that said ‘those that drink langest live langest’ and at this rate A and I will be around till our 80s…

Da Vinci drawings at Sunderland Museum

Took a trip to Sunderland today to see the Da Vinci drawings – selections of which are on display around the country. It was the first time I had been to the Museum and I was impressed – there were a number of good exhibits, including some drawings from the archives, some LS Lowry and a series of drawings of local pensioners by Andrew Tift called One Day You’ll be Older Too.

The Da Vinci exhibit was astoundingly good value – £2.50 a ticket! – and showcased some beautiful pieces. We rounded off our trip with coffee and a scone in the cafe (also not bad value) and a wander round the winter gardens. Definitely worth a visit.

Alien Invasion at the Centre for Life

Saturday my friend D and I went to The Centre for Life to see the exhibition of costumes and props from alien-related movies and TV shows. Despite the fact I have walked past this place literally hundred of times – my mum lived just up the road – I have never been in, so felt this was a perfect excuse to visit.

The centre isn’t massive, and is obviously geared towards families, so a lot of it I was happy to ignore (a crowded talk on the science of chocolate, featuring experiments on Easter Eggs, was proving popular as we passed). The exhibition itself wasn’t massive – you could walk the whole thing in a few minutes – but both D and I were happy to freak out over the Aliens props, and both of us got a thrill from standing next to a surprisingly louche Stormtrooper.

We also took a trip to the Planetarium to see a short film about the moon, and marvelled at the giant version of the same suspended just outside it (a touring artwork by Luke Jerram). Although not a cheap experience – our tickets, which gave access to the whole centre, were £11 – it’s definitely worth a visit if you have kids, as they put on lots of activities.

Bonus points for having a cafe that doesn’t gouge a captive audience on prices (the nice staff even gave me another token for the coffee machine when I wasted my first by not being able to figure out how it worked – what can I say, I really needed that coffee!) and for having disabled toilets clearly labelled with the message ‘not all disabilities are visible’ – which I think is a tactic more places should employ.

And I got to see a Stormtrooper!

The Biscuit Factory

Went for a birthday brunch to The Factory Kitchen at the Biscuit Factory, in the newly revitalised Ouseburn. I have been to the gallery before, and liked it, but never eaten at any of the eateries. The Factory Kitchen is, I think, the most affordable, and I will definitely be going back: the grilled cheese sandwich was one of the best I have ever had, and my companion was equally taken with her eggs Benedict. The only downside was it was so filling that even after we took a break to walk around the art and enjoy a pop up jewellery shop (the main gallery also sells some lustworthy pieces), we were still so full that her plan to buy me a slice of cake was thwarted and we had to settle for another coffee instead…