Once in a while you have one of those experiences which you know is going to influence you very deeply and stay with you, one way or another, for years - if not for the rest of your life. Sometimes, of course, these experiences can be unpleasant; a first visit to Middlesbrough, accidentally watching Dale Winton on tv, mumps, discovering that you’re not gay after all. Happily, these catastrophes are usually balanced by an equal or even (hopefully) greater number of enjoyable and lastingly beneficial experiences. Last night, I had one of those....
I had never previously heard of the Spooky Men’s Chorale - as, I trust, you haven’t either. I saw them listed as appearing in Hall Two at The Sage last night and - having a rare gap in my otherwise hectic and cluttered social and cultural diary - I booked myself a seat. I didn’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t disappointed (if that makes sense).
Having said all that, I’m going to find it difficult to describe exactly why they’re so special. But special they most certainly are. 16 bloke-ish blokes from Oz, of all shapes, sizes and ages, present themselves in black apparel of various kinds and styles. They stand in a shuffling semicircle and, led by their chorusmaster (who wears a fur-lined flying hat) they...
Well, they sing.
They sing about anything they think is worth singing about. Many of their songs are about what it means to be a man (not, though, as opposed to what it means to be a woman; there are no ribald songs, or any inter-song chat, about women, football or cars). There are ear-catchers about how everything you do makes a mess and , if you leave the mess, it seems to get worse; about the love of a lamp-post for another lamp-post. And there’s advice on what to do if you don’t like the government. This latter, along with a song of advice to those waging the War on Terror, are must-hear songs in a whole evening of must-hear songs.
They have a penchant for traditional Georgian male-voice singing; that’s the Georgia between Turkey and Russia and it’s reckoned to have the oldest polyphonic singing in the world. It’s desperately melancholic. Its effect bypasses the brain and goes straight to the heart.
I guess that’s one of the reasons they’re so special. By turns, they had the audience laughing uproariously or on the verge of empathetic tears. The evening was certainly an emotional roller-coaster. I’m happy to report, though, that their two standing ovations prove conclusively that the audience made their ways home uplifted and liberated.
If you’d like to find out why I’m so enthusiastic about The Spooky Men - and I’m very well aware that my descriptive powers have rather let me down here - then you have two further chances to find out. They’ll be at the Jubilee Hall in Rothbury on Wednesday 19 August and at the Gala Theatre in Durham City on Thursday 20 August.
Kill for a ticket.
I was sad to learn of the death of Jimmy Forsyth last Thursday at the age of 95. During my time at BBC Radio Newcastle, I had helped to draw much-needed attention to his work on several occasions - usually when the publishing arm of Newcastle City Council issued a new book of his astonishing and evocative photographs.
Jimmy was moved to start taking pictures with his ‘box-Brownie’ in the early 60s when the old and characterful West End of Newcastle started to disappear under the bulldozer’s blades. He worked mainly around Scotswood Road, not far from where I live now, and his photographs illustrate an environment and a way of life the totality of whose destruction we may well be starting to regret. To look at his pictures is to be taken back to an era that, very sadly indeed, seems to bear no resemblance to the soulless West End which confronts us today.
It’s estimated that he took well over 40,000 pictures in his busy life, including the one at the head of this posting. At least as far as I am concerned, his skill, his eye for a picture and the huge importance of his work, were never recognised and valued nearly as much as they ought to have been.
He has left us a priceless legacy. Thanks, Jimmy.
Last Saturday was Pride Day in Newcastle so I thought I’d pop over to Leazes Park to join in the celebrations - the Pink Picnic!
Considering what a bloody awful afternoon it was - almost continuous heavy rain - it was very well-attended and great fun. Men and women of all shapes, sizes, ages, colours and creeds (both gay and straight) gathered together in a kind of communal proclamation that the fight is still going on against shame, fear, abuse and ignorance.
You might think that there isn’t much left to fight for in this country. After all, gay people in England can now enter into civil partnerships (and there was a guy at the Picnic in a black kilt with whom I would gladly have done just that) and macho stalwarts like Northumbria Police and the local Fire Brigade both had stalls at the Pink Picnic.
But in many ways, the north-east lags behind most of the rest of urban England in many of its attitudes towards gay people. Sunderland is, without any doubt whatsoever, the largest town in England without any gay venues at all. And I’ve often wondered how on earth gay people manage to live in areas like Bishop Auckland or Billingham, where ‘coming out’ would risk instant and vicious homophobia. (To be honest, I often wonder how anyone, gay or straight, manages to live in Bishop Auckland or Billingham.)
When I got home from the Picnic I found myself reflecting on all the changes that have taken place during my lifetime, from the decriminalising of homosexuality in 1967 to the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005. And I spent a few moments honouring and ‘respecting’ gay people in the many parts of the world for whom things are much, much worse than they are for me.
There are dozens of countries throughout the world where homosexuality is stridently illegal and punishable by long terms in prison and/or corporal punishment. Even worse; in Sudan, Mauretania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Iran gay people can be - and are - put to death for their sexuality. The death penalty; for being gay.
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