A busy week and then a wall

It’s been a pretty crazy month in April, but I have also, for most of it, been pretty ill. Last week my usual, ahem, failsafe plan of powering through and ignoring it did what it always does: works until it didn’t, when my body finally said enough and a three-day migraine wiped the feet from under me. So this week, work aside, I plan to take it easy: lots of green veg, lots of rest, lots of naps and nights in.

I did manage to do some fun stuff last week, though. Saw Avengers Endgame, a little movie you might have heard of, and went for cocktails at Beelim House again. Went to another gig in the Cluny – this time Cluny 2, which I liked a lot less, since it seemed to have been set up with no thought to the sightlines, and I’m never that fond of being in a basement. Still, it was to see Simone Felice, who my friend L is mad about (she was right at the front of the stage, while I sat at the back and felt a bit sorry for myself). While I am not totally converted, it was a good gig and we met him afterwards (I shamelessly insisted she took a photo with him), and he seemed very nice.

Yesterday I was back at Northern Stage to see Isle of Brimsker, a lovely wee play by Frozen Lights, a company that specialise in theatre for people with profound and multiple disabilities. It was a really well-done show: thoughtful, clever and performed with bags of charm, and I am pleased that Northern Stage is making such an effort to engage wider audiences.

But now, this week? Just lots and lots of naps.

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Holy Moly and the Crackers at the Cluny

Despite the fact that I was still feeling super shonky, dragged my sorry ass off the sofa for a gig last night and as usual, ended up glad I made the effort. After dinner at The Ship (where I tried their ‘fish’ and chips again, in the hope of finding it a little more exciting than last time, and still thought it was a little bland, so lesson learned) L and I went to see Holy Moly and the Crackers at their sold out Cluny gig.

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Since L is the gig maven – most of the bands I have seen so far since moving back have been at her suggestion – it was nice that this time it was my idea, and luckily the band didn’t let me down, putting on an absolutely barnstorming performance. They really are a great act live – personable, energetic and with a real connection to the crowd.

I also couldn’t help being a little pleased that the tour – named after their new album, Take a Bite, had some merch that was pretty much designed for me, so while I usually never buy merch at gigs, I thought this lip balm would make a nice prop for my bookstagram posts. So that’s almost like a work expense, right?*

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*Dear HMRC: I have not charged this as a work expense.

No Miracles Here at Northern Stage

Back at Northern Stage on Friday to see another show. I admit I wasn’t in the mood for it – a hectic work week had left me drained, which was evident when I arrived to realise I was still wearing my ‘house cardi’ (the shapeless, warm throw I schlepp around in, never to be seen out of doors), and I had completely forgotten what I was supposed to be reviewing, so stood at the box office for a good couple of minutes going, ‘um… a show?’. Then I tried to get in by confidently showing the usher my Metro card, so all in all not my best night for smoothness.

On top of that, my tiredness made me grumpy with the audience – did the man next to me not realise that jiggling your leg when you are on bleacher-style seating makes the who row move, and was making me seasick? (Why are men ALWAYS so unaware of how their behaviour affects others? Would it kill them to be at least a little in tune withe their environment, the way women are trained to be from childhood? But then, why won’t that woman stop talking all the way through the fecking show? Does she think her voice isn’t carrying right to the front of the stage?) How do SO MANY people need to go to the toilet during a show that was barely an hour long?

Despite these inauspicious factors, I was pretty won over by the show itself. A piece of gig-theatre by local group The Letter Room, No Miracles Here could be dark – it’s about someone planning to kill themselves – but ended up being warm, funny and ultimately uplifting. And short enough that I could get home in time to squeeze in an episode of Ghost Whisperer before bed, which is always good.

The Ship Inn and Gangstagrass at the Cluny

I seem to split my time fairly evenly these days between the Quayside (Live Theatre) and Ouseburn – and, following Friday’s snowy visit, I returned in mercifully better climes for a gig at the Cluny to see Gangstagrass.

I was going with my friend L of Raven in a Graveyard – and her parents, who are an absolute delight, and way hipper than I will ever be. It’s not often you see a couple of pensioners getting down to a mix of bluegrass and hip hop – not in my life, anyway – but her folks were long time fans, having seen the band in Edinburgh and the US. (They were chatting away like old friends before the gig – I was impressed!).

Dinner first, and we decided to try The Ship, in no small part because of its proximity to the venue. But it’s a place I have been keen to try for ages, but have so far only managed to walk past when it’s stowed. It’s is an old-fashioned pub – dog friendly, good beer, some board games – but has also successfully established itself as a venue for vegan food. I had the ‘fish’ and chips with mushy peas, which was filling, but not amazing: the chips were great, but the ‘fish’ – tofu wrapped in seaweed and then fried in batter – was a little bland, and the peas looked processed rather than marrowfat: L said she’d had better on previous occasions. Her parents fared better with a pie, gravy and chips that they said was great (and certainly looked fantastic). I’d definitely go back, though – a good range of options, really friendly staff (who were great about my nut allergy) and it’s a lovely space – no wonder it gets so busy.

The gig was in Cluny 1 again – the same place I saw Rob Heron. My only knowledge of the band was that they did the Justified theme, but their hard-to-quantify sound – an engaging mix of bluegrass and hip hop – and their fantastic stage presence made for a great gig, and I’m really pleased L suggested it – part of what I wanted to do when I moved was broaden my horizons, and do more than just go to the theatre all the time, and I’m actually doing pretty well on that. I’ll never be as cool as her folks, though…

Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra

The reason I was in Ouseburn in a blizzard (see previous post) was to go to a gig – my first at the Cluny. My friend Linda (of Raven in a Graveyard) is a regular there, and said that Rob Heron and his band were a fun night out. Well, she wasn’t wrong – the band were a delight. They’re a band that’s hard to categorise – I’ve seen them described as ‘swing honkytonk rockabilly’, and there was certainly some rockabilly style in the audience – but enormous fun, and with one of the most personable front men I’ve seen in a while. The music was toe-tappingly good, touching on everything from unrequited love to gentrification and bargain wine at Lidl, and the atmosphere was great (though we could have done without someone sending Linda’s drink flying then, instead of offering to replace it, just giving a cheery thumbs up. Er, thanks, love.)

The Cluny itself is a nice venue: small enough to feel intimate but not so small you feel squashed in, and with a decent programme of gigs (which is a good thing, since I’m going back this week…).

Holy Moly and the Crackers

Friday night saw me embracing something new while also reliving my youth, in a way. My friend M is a huge fan of the ban Holy Moly & The Crackers (whose song Cold Comfort Lane was featured in the film Ocean’s 8). She saw them at Alphabetti previously, so persuaded me to get a ticket to go with her when they played the Riverside. I’m glad I did – the gig was an absolute corker, the band – who I discovered were local – played their hearts out and the place was rocking. They are coming back on tour next year with a new album, but you better not beat me to tickets.

It was also interesting to see the new Riverside. In my youth I was a regular, and went to see bands as short-lived as Menswear (who were supported by Travis!), as well as more long-lived artists. Now that whole area of town seems to have been turned into luxury flats, the venue has relocated to the old Fish Market on the Quayside. It’s a gorgeous space, and a nice integration of old and new, with lots of neon and a well-laid-out interior (plenty of seats to chill out on before the gig) but something about it jarred. Maybe because I spend a lot of my time not only in theatres but thinking about making them more inclusive spaces. Maybe that’s made me oversensitive (certainly my female companion said nothing). But I couldn’t help noticing that, despite hosting a mixed gender band and a very mixed crowd (and having plenty of women’s toilets), the decor felt very much designed for the male eye: it felt a very gendered space.

Giant pictures of musicians adorn the walls: men look cool, women look sexy. (There are a few female musicians featured, but they are the traditionally hot looking ones, such as Debbie Harry). A giant Pulp Fiction Patricia Arquette reclines in her bra against one wall; upstairs, a woman clad in knickers and fishnets has her back to the camera, showing off a God Save the Queen jacket. Rock quotes – all by men, at least that I saw – are painted throughout. It adds up to a subtle sense that it’s a space for men, that music is male, and that women get to take part providing they look good enough.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with sexy pictures, of course, or boudoir design, but I’m also not sure that a 21st century venue should feel so squarely like it’s aimed at the blokes. Should it?

Crocodile shoes and canaries in a coalmine

So, it’s been nearly three months since I moved back to Newcastle – moved home, as I am getting used to saying – and while at times it has been stressful (and expensive – so, so expensive), I’m also convinced more and more that I have done the right thing.

I’ve loved reconnecting with family – my Sunday nights at my cousin’s are now a highlight of my week, not least cos she stuffs me full of beer and great food and I only have to stagger round the corner to get home – and with old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for decades.

I’m still getting used to my neighbourhood – I miss having a Co-op and a coffee shop at the end of my street – but I like my new flat, and being handy for the Metro, although I still turn up everywhere early because I can’t quite believe I can get to town in 10 minutes rather than the ‘everything is an hour away’ London commuting experience. I love having more space (fitted wardrobes! A spare room!).

My hopes that moving North would enable me to plug into the local arts scene in a way that I never felt I could down south have so far proved wonderfully true. I have been welcomed with open arms by people in the theatre scene, having meetings with the kind of folk I would have previously dismissed as Too Busy and Important For The Likes of Me. I’ve already been to six of the region’s performance venues and seen nearly a dozen shows, and I’m enjoying exploring more offbeat work and ventures. I’m hoping at some stage this involvement will become more participatory – I’m already mooting doing some readings – but at the moment, I am happy just to observe, and enjoy connecting with a bunch of interesting, passionate people.

All of that, really, was what I expected – or at least hoped – to get from my move. A life rich with connection, friends and family, culture and arts, and less focused on the punishing reality of just slogging to make ends meet as a working class freelancer, without a partner or the Bank of Mum and Dad to help out. I’m thrilled by it – it’s gone better than I could have dreamed – but also not entirely surprised.

What has caught me more off guard are the ways in which I am not just reconnecting with others, but with myself. My accent still wanders liberally from one end of the UK to the other – from Newcastle to Glasgow with some Ireland thrown in for good measure – and I still find myself regularly shocked by how cheap the drinks are.

But there are moments when familiarity hits me so hard I’m thrown. I’ll walk down a street I don’t remember, but realise I know where I am going. Words and phrases I haven’t used since childhood are slipping into my conversation. I find I have fully-formed opinions about neighbourhoods I wasn’t aware I knew existed, and can tell by the lightest variation in an accent from which side of the river someone stems.

Talking to a director the other day (get me, now), we were discussing the specificity of cities. We’d both lived in Glasgow, and found it culturally similar to Newcastle, but were also both acutely aware that each city has its own flavour, its own quirks and beliefs and habits. And lately I have been thinking about those specificities, the things you only ever really know if you live somewhere, a culture you have to inhabit to understand.

(A Glaswegian friend of mine once said it’s impossible to explain to an outsider the horror of the phrase, ‘’ExCUSE me, pal’ which sounds harmless but usually means you are at best going to be tapped for cigarettes, at worst mugged, and so you should always head off in the opposite direction when you hear it).

Sometimes the things you think are unique to you, are actually culturally ingrained. In the Biscuit Factory this weekend, enjoying their gorgeous art, I was looking at some bird sculptures and casually remarked that my mum would never have images of birds in the house, believing it unlucky. ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a mining tradition,’ my companion blithely assured me – and something I hadn’t even ever wondered about fell neatly into place.

Sometimes, you forget how engraved certain things are in your local culture consciousness until they are surfaced by other people. Say the phrase ‘She’s lyin’’ in an Geordie accent to anyone of my age and we instantly have the Jimmy Nail earworm Ain’t No Doubt stuck in our head for the rest of the day, when most people will barely be able to recall it.

And the other day when I wore my fancy, shiny Brighton boots to the ballet, one of the ushers stopped me and said, ‘wye, they’re a right pair of Crocodile shoes, aren’t they?’ And I was so shocked I stopped on my way to my seat. Oh God, I thought, they are, aren’t they? They really, really are…’

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