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.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com


Hildie said...

Morning everyone
I saw a feature on Jimmy Forsyth
on Look North at the end of last week. They showed lots of his photographs but, then again, not quite enough. It left me feeling I needed to see so many more of them. They did say that he only ever took one shot of a photograph ... if you take the same one twice, you then have to decide which is the best. It was a good policy for him, considering how many photos he took in his lifetime! They also said he never gave a title to any of his pictures. It IS a wonderful legacy he has left us, you're so right, Ian.
I don't profess to be as aware
as I should be about the myriad problems that gay people have to encounter in the world, even today, but I am aware of the truth in your posting about people actually being put to death for their sexuality in countries like Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. It is a galling and barbaric fact. As far as I'm concerned it doesn't matter if a person is gay or straight, it's if they're nice that matters. I maybe shouldn't have plodded into this territory, forgive me for knowing so little.
However, there was some mention of exactly the same subject matter on BIG BROTHER last night. In discussion, it cropped up that attitudes to gay people are not good in Pakistan either. Incidently, have any of you seen Charlie on there ... a lovely young gay guy from Newcastle? Love him!
I was on the Quayside, Saturday night ... looks like I just missed The Spooky Men by 24hours! I gazed across at the magnificent Sage and stood mesmerised by the changing light of the Millenium Bridge ... it was like being out in the big, wide world ... I live a very sheltered life here in Dipton!
Any ideas yet about when we could have the next AGM? Miss you all.

Meg said...

Here's some more Clerihews for you

Jonathan Miles
Has big piles
He bought some cream
which made him scream

Ian chuckled
so his belt unbuckled
It was such a dream
To hear Miles scream

Meg watched on
And then was gone
She wondered what
Had hit Miles spot

Milesy cried
as he was spied
by Paul Wappat
who was playing Bopit!

by Meg and her daughter Wendy

Kev said...

As usual a thought provoking blog.
I'll be out of touch for the summer so I'll take the opportunity to wish everyone the best of summers.
I couldn't leave without one last item - I wonder how long this took to think up? Each word is one letter longer than the previous one.

I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting; nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality, counterbalancing indecipherability, transcendentalises intercommunications' incomprehensibleness.

Take care

Hildie said...

Hi Kev, I enjoyed your farewell sentence! So clever and so true. Have a great summer wherever you may be.
Hi Meg, more clever stuff from you and Wendy, well done! Are you available any time soon for an AGM?

When I posted, earlier today, I mentioned I had been to the Quayside on Saturday night ... well, I really hadn't wanted to go
as it was my young friend, Shona's Hen Party that I'd been invited to ... and I didn't reckon I'd enjoy it. It was clerihew week when I got the invitation and I was having a moan to Maureen and to Sid about not wanting to go.
Sid had found his poetic bent that week, when Ian got him interested in the clerihews. Here follows the poem he wrote and sent to me -

I'm sorry, Shona, I just can't go,
Please listen to my tale of woe.
I have a dog, no it's a cat,
She's lying prostrate on the mat.

My glass of wine was on the floor,
When someone knocked upon my door.
On my return the cat I spied,
Up the curtain, eyes so wide.

The wine was gone, the glass licked dry,
And then the cat came flying by.
I caught her by the flowing tail,
You should have heard the poor thing wail.

She's sleeping now, my lovely cat,
but I couldn't leave her ...
not after that!

Good,ain't it?
And now he's looking into the possibility of growing Doughnut Peaches! Is there no end to his talent, one asks!

The other thing I forgot to tell you this morning was that my son, Liam, reckons he saw Gordon Brown yesterday morning. He had to pick up a car from Newcastle Airport ... he says he saw Mr Brown there in a Range Rover, well- in a convoy of Range Rovers and Police Cars . Liam said that the police were blocking off the slip roads so that the convoy could have a straight run. He is doing quite well at celeb spotting at the moment .... he saw Ross Kemp at a cash-point in Newcastle last week

Hildie said...

Hello .... I read this today and, knowing you Truckshunters are fans of the humble bumle bee, I thought you might be interested.
A Chinese couple have got married wearing clothes made of thousands of living bees.
Li Wenhua and Yan Hongxia are both enthusiastic beekeepers and work for the Nanhu Forestry Commission in Ning'an City in Northern China...... and, despite the fact that most of their friends kept their distance, the couple were still delighted with their new clothes.
Husband, Li, said: "I have been working with bees for 2 decades and it was the obvious choice for us on our big day. I also wanted to set a world record for the biggest coat of bees - I put a queen bee on each of us but the only thing was ... it was impossible to count how many bees we had .... I don't know if a guess is enough for a world record".
His wife added: "It was an amazing feeling to have a carpet of living bees moving over my body. I could feel them as they moved around - it was amazing. I have always loved bees but this was a totally new experience."

It takes all sorts
to make a world,
doesn't it?!!

Maureen said...

Oooo Hildie I like bees but couldn't fancy that at all, just imagine ...think that I'll have nightmares tonight! I 'spotted' (pardon the pun) a ladybird without spots today does anyone know what it was? Didn't know whether it was good or bad for my lilies but gave it the benefit of the doubt!
Have a good summer Kev, sounds mysterious, I'll imagine you living the life of a hermit in a cave in the Highlands!

Vivienne said...

Hi Hildie,

That's a really good Newsreel story. I'd love to see the coats, but in a photo, not live!

Maureen said...

PS Those photos by Jimmy Forsyth. I was thinking can you imagine how much it must have cost him to have them all developed in 'the olden days' before digital. What a marvellous gift to everyone who views them. Remember 'Smoke' Ian, the film where Harvey Keitel took a photo eveyday? Yes, I did get the dvd on your recommendation!

Maureen said...

Hi Vivienne,
looks like we crossed, funny how often that happens isn't it?
I was thinking, what happened to the 'one at one' Did anyone keep up with it? I'm afraid I fell by the wayside due to work etc. It would have been dead boring to see my workplace every day!

Ian Robinson said...

I'm afraid the '1 at 1' photograph hit the dust quite quickly. I should have realised that the range of activities in which a self-respecting 60 year-old man (let alone ME) could be engaged in at 1300 each day is strictly limited. But yes, Maureen, it was inspired by the plot-line in 'Smoke'. What can I replace it with?

Maureen said...

Photos, Ian, I once heard the suggestion of turning in the opposite direction just before taking a photo, for a compleely different view. Is that bizarre enough for Truckshunters?