Want to find out about the NE music scene? Well you need NE Volume in your life!

So you guys know me as The Culture Vulture – I’m your one stop shop for cultural information, happenings and the queen of championing creative projects and people. However, I’m only as good as my network and the people in it – I’m constantly out there seeking information and keeping my ear to the ground. I started two years ago, just a love of going out and cultural goings on with a passion to champion people, places and projects whilst doing my own stuff.

Now my network and cultural knowledge in the cultural sector is second to none. In fact, if I ever went on mastermind, I’d want it to be my specialist topic. I spend an insane amount of time on social media – it’s my job to know the happenings, to seek out opportunities, create connections and have a good overview of the movers and shakers, emerging and exciting happenings. It means that I discover lots of things and exciting people on social – some of whom are doing thriving and vibing things in the sector but I’ve actually never met. Weird right? Admiring their work from a far whilst their work and content becomes a core part of my knowledge bank. Any type of admiring from a far sounds creepy to me – but I’m the proud queen of creeping.

So as The Culture Vulture – you guys know I’m all about championing and seeking out the gems, the new venues, the gigs which you attend and you know you’ve just seen something magical and of course, local artists! On the flip side, I’m also going to see Taylor Swift in May and I’m literally buzz light years about it. But when I think of the North East and music for recommendations and gig suggestions – I think of NE Volume! It’s a great in print and digital publication, that covers lots of real reviews and editorial about the North-East music scene.

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Their reviews are written by real people, the venues are many familiar favourites and some new gems, the gigs covered make me so proud of our cultural scene and many a time, I’ve taken a chance on an unknown and LOVED IT.

I love Crack Mag but NE Volume are doing something a bit special and have totally cornered a niche. Their passionate ever-growing readership and thriving online community of music lovers is a testament to the fact they are doing something mega special.

So, I digitally caught up with NE Volume founder Lee Allcock (one of my 2018 new years’ resolutions is to meet in person), to find out more about NE Volume and where it all started!

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Lee Allcock

What is NE volume?

NE Volume is a FREE North East music and culture magazine that is stocked in 250+ outlets right across the region (nevolume.co.uk/outlets) and is also available to download at nevolume.co.uk/magazine.

Tell me about you and the beginnings of NE Volume?

I’ve always been passionate about music, especially local bands and artists, and my dream was to become a music journalist. I studied Journalism at Teesside University, volunteered for some other local music magazines while working as a content writer, and I was then given a small grant by Teesside University to start my own business. Of course, I quit my job immediately and the rest is history.

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Quitting your job to pursue your dream is right up my street – so what was your motivation for the business, like me – you’re a bit of an workaholic – you must love what you do!

It hasn’t been easy, and there have been a lot of ups and downs, but I absolutely love what I do and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I support local bands, cultural events, and North East businesses for a living and that keeps me motivated.

There’s the Crack, Narc and others – I love NE volume but do you want to tell my readers what makes you and the publication different?

We’re actually the ONLY music and culture magazine based in Teesside. And, although Teesside is a pretty large area, I felt that The Crack and NARC weren’t really showcasing this area so I wanted to help.

So tell me what was your highlight of 2017 in terms of NE Volume?

To be honest, the fact that we’re still here and running in an internet-based world has got to be the highlight for me. It’s been a tough road, but with the support of so many bands, independent businesses, music venues, our loyal readers, my designer, and my writers, we’ve been able to continue to support the local music and culture scenes – and that makes it all worthwhile.

Of course, I have to ask this question – what’s been your favourite gig?

Liam Gallagher at Metro Radio Arena. Okay, it’s not a small local gig (which I also absolutely adore) but Liam was in his element from start to finish and he had the crowd in the palm of his hands.

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Liam Gallagher

What’s your ‘one to watch’ for 2018?

Local band, The Pale White. They’re set to play at Riverside in Newcastle this month and it’s already sold out. They’ve also supported the likes of the Libertines and they’re destined for big things this year – I’m sure of it.

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The Pale White

Who is your fave soloist?

Samantha Durnan; her beautiful lyrics and stunning vocals really do pull on the heartstrings.

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Samantha Durnan

You also have a cultural corner within your publication, I’ve written for it before as the Culture Vulture (yey!) – but what are your plans for this?

My plan is to increase the number of cultural articles we cover over the course of 2018. We’ll also be looking to review theatre productions and comedy gigs as well as interview comedians and artists.

OK so say I’m in a band and I want to get an NE volume review – what should I do?

Don’t be afraid to get in touch with me at info@nevolume.co.uk including some background about your band and a link to your material and we’ll do all we can to arrange for your release to be reviewed.

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You recruit lots of new aspiring writers and journalists – what’s your recruitment process?

It’s very simple: just send an email to me at info@nevolume.co.uk including your CV and a paragraph about your favourite aspect of the North East music scene and I will get back to you within 2 days maximum.

 

What are you up to for 2018?

I’m actually going to start my own radio show (fingers crossed) so I’ll be looking for local promoters, bands, soloists, and independent venue owners to join me for a chat. Again, if you’re interested then please email me and I’ll be happy to liaise with you.

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Well that’s lush and Lee has already asked me to be on his radio show (I do love the sound of my own voice so obviously I jumped at it) so something to look forward to! Make sure you check out the current edition of NE Volume – it’s a treat!

Until next time Culture Vultures.

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Vegan Restaurant Week 2018 – your next cultural adventure!

So you all know I’m queen of championing Independents in the region and that’s one of the reasons I love Newcastle Restaurant week; an opportunity to eat my way across the city, explore new places and support lots of independents. You may have heard of Newcastle Restaurant week – but have you heard of next week’s Vegan Restaurant Week? You may not have – but you absolutely need to fall in love with it, like I have.

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So you may be vegan and this week may be music to your ears! Or you may not be vegan and think – “eh – why would I be interested in this!?”. Well let me tell you, I’m not vegan either. But I’m a cultural adventurer – I absolutely love stepping out of my comfort zone, trying new things and I’m eternally curious. Vegan food when done well means beautiful colourful plates and lush tasting food. There are lots of vegan versions of your meaty favourites, plant based soul soothing dishes and if you’re feeling naughty, well there is even vegan junk food.

So if you have the misconception that vegan food isn’t tasty or not for you – well firstly, you’re absolutely wrong and secondly, give it a try! You’ll be pleasantly surprised – I promise, especially if you like your spice like me.

Lots of Independents are getting involved in Vegan Restaurant Week so it’s an opportunity to not only to try something new but also to visit and experience somewhere new. Last year, I had the pleasure of attending Kommunity’s Vegan supper club run by Mama Zen and it was beautiful. Each mouthful so full of flavour and all great with a gin and tonic on the side.

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Kommunity Ncl

If you’re after a recommendation from me – I’d say get yourself to Thought Foundation who are hosting a foodie pop up night with the Calabash Tree on 12th January; you need to book in advance so nab your place and have a taste of the Caribbean. Or, go to Kommunity for Wildflower’s Pop-Up for some lush home-made food at lunch time Thurs-Sat!

So enough from me – I recently caught up with the founder of Vegan Restaurant Week – all round mega babe and Culture Vulture favourite and friend Emma Phillips.

So Emma, tell me and for those that don’t know; what is Vegan Restaurant week?

Vegan Restaurant Week is a celebration of plant-based food here in the North East. It first started in 2017 and was the first event of its kind in the world. Since we launched a state in the US ran a similar promotion, so it must have been a good idea!

What was the inspiration behind starting it?

Vegan Restaurant Week came to being because I wanted to show how easy it was to find plant based food here in the North East, despite misconceptions! I think we were never considered as very ‘forward-thinking’ when it came to cuisine, but times are changing. We have a thriving restaurant scene, especially in Newcastle, but I also wanted to show support to the local independent restaurants and cafes that have accommodated those who don’t eat animal products over the years.

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Is it the only UK Vegan restaurant week?

This is the only event of its kind in the UK, and I feel proud VRW has been able to showcase what we have to offer in the region. I would love to be able to take this to other areas in the country as it is a fantastic way of bringing the community together, especially during Veganuary.

So it’s in its second year – what was the reception like to the week last year?

The reception last year was fantastic. Any event is a concern, especially as we had no marketing budget. But the community rallied round, and many restaurants were fully booked during the week.

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Who is Vegan restaurant week for?

VRW is for everyone. I was clear from the outset that the week was not just aimed at vegans within the NE. I hoped many people would be interested to try out vegan food, even if it was on account of the special offers that many cafes and restaurants ran during the 2017 event.

I’m heading out with my vegan friend next week – we are massive foodies and love colourful plates. We both like spice and see food as a mega social treat – where do you suggest we go?

I would recommend trying out the pop up event Thought Foundation are hosting on Friday night with Calabash Tree. The menu features Jerk Butternut Squash, Curried Chana Aloo, and for dessert a Spiced Rum Almond Cake.

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I’m also taking my friend out with her little boy – she’s a massive meat eater and loves BBQ-esque food and I want to prove her vegan food can absolutely hit the spot – any suggestions?

Somewhere like Grumpy Panda or Junk It Up will be a huge hit with those who like BBQ and/or junk food. Think burgers, Southern Fried Fricken and doner kebabs. This is not what people imagine vegans eat and I love the surprise on people’s faces when they tuck in!

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Grumpy Panda

You know me, and you know I’m not a vegan. I love trying different foods and I was one of those people that through curiosity discovered that vegan food can be so yummy. What would you say to those curious about vegan food?

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding what vegans eat. I am by no means a healthy vegan and couldn’t exist on salads alone. I think VRW is a great opportunity to try out something a little different, especially if you’re trying to cut down on your meat and/or dairy intake. There’s a huge array of alternatives out there, and you might actually like them.

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Common vegan misconceptions

I’m the queen of seeking out the hidden gems, somewhere I haven’t been before; what is your hidden gem suggestion?

That is a hard question to answer as we want to support everyone involved in the event! Pulp Fiction are offering an All You Can Eat Breakfast Buffet which I think will appeal to those who are trying to be ‘good’ during January. I think many will be surprised to learn Darcey’s in Central Station have vegan grilled cheese and sausage sandwiches on offer, and Chaia in Gosforth have a lovely afternoon tea for just £10 too.

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Well thank you Emma – mega excited to eat my way across the region, one lush vegan dish at a time! For the full list of participating restaurants head over to the official website!

Until next time Culture Vultures!

Beth O’Doherty; fave human, actor, singer, dancer, writer, panto lover & challenger of asexual stereotypes.

The region is thriving and vibing culturally at the moment. I honestly, think this is the dawn of the independents, the makers, the doers, the passion project pushers, the creative thought leaders – the creative folk championing each other, their projects, their journey and I’m very much a part of that. Part of being the Culture Vulture means I’m a cultural cheerleader- willing everyone on, championing them, mentoring, trying to lead by example that the creative sector is truly ALIVE and has space for the brand new, the disruptors, experimenters and independents.

At the moment the performing arts sector in the North East is exactly that – there are so many independents, projects, individuals coming forward with new ideas and shows –  it makes me smile with pride and I’m so excited to see how 2018 pans out.

In 2017, I had the pleasure of falling back in love with performing arts – through my role at Sunderland Stages, was invited to work on 4 audience development projects, I saw 61 theatre shows, met 18 theatre companies, saw 3 festivals and BAM true love reunited.

I met a fantastic amount of exciting talented people and again, as the Culture Vulture – I love the possibilities and I have no idea what talent I might discover around any turn. Beth O’Doherty was around one of those corners and she’s thriving and vibing into 2018……

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Hi Beth, so tell me a bit about you and what you’re up to at the moment?

Why hello you! At the minute, I’m enjoying the seasonal festivities and a bit of rest and relaxation time so I’m re cooperated for 2018.

You seem to have your fingers in so many creative projects and pies – it’s great and I love that about, honing your talents and vibe whilst experiencing so many things. What was your highlight of 2017?

That’s a tough one! I’ve been a part of so many lovely shows but seeing Alphabetti Theatre get a new venue and reopen with a triumphant hurrah was an absolute joy and the programme has been full of delights

I first met you at part of GIFT Festival 2017, which for those who don’t know, is a fantastic festival of theatre in Gateshead. Tell me about why you got involved in GIFT and your favourite GIFT 2017 moment?

I was taught by Kate Craddock (Festival Director) and the lecturers are always keen to give you experience through their projects. I couldn’t resist getting involved as I just love festivals. They wet your appetite with lots of different teases.

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Bonnie and The Bonnettes

I got to build up my skills in Front of House and tech and generally see how you put such a mammoth event together. It was an amazing chance to see international work from different countries and to see international ways of working right on your door step. We are definitively better together and when we share and stay connected so I hope that this practice can continue.

Saying that, my favourite moment was when Bonnie and the Bonnettes along with their guests performed The Bloodhound Gang’s Bad Touch. What an absolute riot!

You remind me of ‘Little Voice’ – actress Jane Horrocks plays a shy, quiet young lady – who when she has a mic and on a stage, unleashes this mind blowing, unexpected big voice….. I love your voice; I love it so much, I invited you to sing at Newcastle Start Up Week’s Creative…… tell party me about your singing journey and how you developed your voice?

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I am absolutely blushing! You are FAR too kind. I have a lot of people to thank that have gone into my singing. I watched so many Disney movies growing up (and still do) that bursting out into song was natural and all I wanted to do so I joined local theatre groups as a way to have fun and make friends.

There, I started developing my technique. You learn from every musical director you work with. I love old Hollywood musicals and the vaudeville style variety shows and am inspired by Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald so listened to them on repeat and started to build up a jazz repertoire. I’d love to learn to scat.

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You recently, hosted a Jazz Showback at Prohibition Bar  in Gateshead – what was the inspiration behind that and most importantly, when’s the next one?

We have so many amazing performing arts groups across the North East and when you’re working on a show you sometimes end up in a bubble so I thought it would be nice to have an excuse to come together, meet new people and celebrate the level of talent we have here. Mitch, the owner of Prohibition bar was so open to ideas and so helpful in the planning. It’s a stunning venue and I’d recommend it to everybody, whatever the occasion. Big thanks to everyone that came to the first one and definitely watch this space for the next.

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I was buzzing when you popped up on my Facebook news feed in full Panto character make-up! What show were you in, how did you get the part and what is being in panto really like?

I went to an open audition in London after seeing an advert and crazily got it. I had the amazing chance to play Widow Twanky in Aladdin for Chaplins Pantos. We were touring schools and community centres around the Midlands and it was such a howl. I think everybody that does Panto falls head over heels for it. You can’t get better audiences. There’s all the nostalgia and tradition behind it, no matter what story you are telling.  You have total licence to play and turn little mistakes into the biggest laughs. For example, I lost my wig in perfect timing with the last beat of the music for the bows riling the kids back up just when it was meant to be over.

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Big props have to go to panto stage managers and crew on book for trying to follow the madness.  Yes, you end up telling the same joke a ridiculous amount of times but it’s just so easy as the audiences give you all the energy you’ll ever need to keep it fresh. I must send my love to the Chaplins team, my cast and Sam, my director for such an amazing time.

I was catching up with Phil Douglas – Creative Director last week (p.s. absolutely can’t wait for Curious Festival 2018) and he told me that you were successfully awarded a Curious bursary! Well done you – very proud; what was the application process like and what was your motivation to apply?

I wanted to apply for Curious as I’ve loved previous years and the conversations that have been started through it. I was developing the idea for the piece and talking with other LGBT+ artists through workshops with Mother’s Ruin and Curious has given me the chance to take the piece to the next level. The application process was very accessible and the team we’re so lovely to talk to.

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Mother’s Ruin

Your developing show is really ground breaking and interesting – what’s the show about?

It’s about my asexuality and not wanting sex when society is giving you so many messages about it. . It’s not wanting to hear another love song on the radio. It’s the confusion when everyone else your age seems to be hooking up. It’s not getting innuendos but not being brave enough to urban dictionary it, all with a bit of song, dance and dress up

As someone that has always struggled with sexuality labels in a world that is so focused in labeling, I think work like this is so important as it shows the spectrum and how individualistic it can be and the journey to a certain point. Do you mind explaining what asexuality is?

Basically, I don’t feel any sexual attraction or arousal. As with any sexuality, everyone has a different connection with it and I’d never claim to speak for anyone else.  I’m attracted by personality and having mutual interests. I’m part of a great online network full of people that use asexual to define themselves. We support each other, share experiences and campaign for visibility

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I know it’s still in development – but what do you want audiences to take away from it?

To recognise that people have different feelings around sex and that enjoying it isn’t a given and to learn a bit about asexuality. I use the show to laugh at people’s negative misconceptions and reclaim jeers so I hope people might relate that to their own situations but most of all to laugh and have a good night out

When can I see it in scratch and do you know where it features in Curious yet? (sneaky way of also trying to find about the Curious programme).

I’m performing on the 6th July at Alphabetti Theatre alongside the other commissioned work which I am very excited to see. I’m not sure how much I can say but by the sound of current plans a wide range of venues are getting involved. It’s gonna absolutely cover the North East. The team are turning the heat up for sure. The range of art forms is gonna be amazing well. There’s gonna be so many different forms of expression.

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BALTIC LIVE is Curious (Photo: Michael Mcguire) 

So what else is for Beth in 2018 – any other projects on the horizon?

I’m assisting the lovely Take Part team at the Customs House with their family arts sessions during the school holidays and am gonna be performing at Mama Rhi and Lydia Brickland’s night for International Women’s Day in March brining out all the girl power songs.

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Mrs Fanny Bleach and other wonderful artists on the 8th March at The Bridge Hotel @ 7.30pm

This time next year, in a year’s time – what do you want to have achieved? One thing?

This is probably a massive ask but I’d love to be a part of a new, original Geordie musical for and about Geordies. Our Billy is still going strong, writer Tom Kelly knows every way to play with my heart (Dolly Mixtures was a highlight for my family last year), The Last Ship is coming back home and there’s some amazing triple threat companies creating vital work. As a region we have so many stories up our sleeve so I can only hope I can get amongst it.

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Not at all a massive ask – an absolute reality in the making and it’s a pleasure to watch you creatively bloom. And of course, remember to invite me to all the scratches and launches of everything or I’ll be getting in a huff.

Big love for Beth – a lass making big waves in writing, singing, directing and just getting amongst it.

Until next time Culture Vultures!

Posy Jowett: my favourite creative onion

Creative people are just like onions…..layers and layers – lots of hidden talents, surprises and so much more than what you see on the surface. The biggest onion I’ve met this year has to be artist, creative and all round megababe Posy Jowett.

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I had the absolute pleasure of working with Posy during Juice Festival – on face value, Posy works at Northern Stage and is a dream working with children, facilitating creative activity.  And then (remember she’s an onion) as part of Juice – Posy had  been commissioned to create re-imaginings in a graphic exhibition showcasing partners, venues and people and it was bliddy fantastic. Jaw dropping amazing – I was blown away! Flash forward to our Juice Festival Culture Camp and Posy drawing an amazing lobster illustration….. it was a really beautiful piece. We all know how furiously jealous I am of people who can draw……

And THEN, it pops up on social media a few weeks ago, sneaky creative Posy was launching her new crafty and creative business; Pocketful of Posy. Posy now sells beautiful hand made product and animals – the attention to detail is immense and I really need more of my friends to have babies so that I can purchase these soft little creatures.

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That’s what I mean about creative people – onions. Posy – working in performing arts and theatre, strong skill set in creative facilitation with children, brilliant graphic designer, naturally talented illustrator and now, a crafty business person designing and sell products. She’s an onion.

So i caught up with Posy recently to find out more about Pocketful of Posy and what is next for this creative onion in 2018…..

Hi Posy, so tell me a bit about yourself?

Well, I have a background in Fine Art – I studied in Sheffield – and have always loved making things. Since moving back to the North East to study for my MA in Cultural Heritage Management, I have worked in a few different roles but missed making things with my hands. I do a little bit of everything; knitting, crochet, pottery, illustration, digital design, lino printing… and now sewing.

Tell me about your brand spanking new creative business – you sneakily launched it and I love the name Pocketful of Posy!

When my sister in law was pregnant with my nephew, Leo, I wanted to make her and her new family a handmade gift. I always over-gift (I love giving presents) and so in addition to the crochet baby blanket I spent hours making I decided to make the new baby a toy. I rummaged through the boxes of craft things that I hoard at home and found a pair of jeans that didn’t fit anyone and one of my boyfriend’s striped shirts that he didn’t wear any more – and they became the first whale.

A mutual friend, Bryony Villiers-Stuart asked that I make her a whale because she loved Leo’s so much, so I made another. This Autumn out of the blue, I had a phone call from Bryony to say she was putting together an ethical makers collective to exhibit and sell work in Hexham this winter, and asked if I would make some soft toys, like the whales, to sell. So I started drawing and trying out designs for my animals, and have ended up with a collection! It’s literally the last week or so that I’ve begun to think that maybe this is a business that I can keep going, so I’ve created Pocketful of Posy.

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I love your products – very lush and special.

I love them too! I am totally dedicated to reducing my carbon footprint and one of the ways I do that is to not buy new clothes. I watched an incredible documentary a couple of years ago, The True Cost, which really influenced the way I think about where I spend my money. I try really hard to shop in charity shops and to buy vintage, and to buy handmade and local where I can. All of my animals are made from repurposed fabrics – I shrink woolen jumpers and scarves in the washing machine to make wool felt for my bears and three of the killer whales are made from a pair of French Connection velvet trousers! This means that there is always a limited number of animals I can make of each fabric. The size of the animals are determined by the clothes I buy from charity shops, and I love that about the pieces. So far I have designed patterns for a snow bear, a grizzly bear, a blue whale, an orca and a fox.

What is the inspiration behind it all?

I think mostly I really adore making things for people. I love gifting beautiful objects to my friends and family, I love making people happy. Particularly at this time of year, I think we all get caught up in buying a lot of plastic rubbish that doesn’t last and is bad for the environment, and I think it’s great to offer an alternative to that for customers. The designs for this collection of animals is inspired by the north and the sea – creatures that survive and thrive in the wind and the snow.

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I’m super jealous about real makers and crafty folk – how did you hone your craft?

I can’t remember learning how to use a sewing machine but my mum always had one and would let me play with it. I became much better when my sister Minty taught me how to repair holes in jeans – I spent hours patching up my boyfriend’s jeans that were ripped to shreds! I realised that it was easy enough to make gentle alterations and mends to clothes, so I became more and more familiar with my sewing machine.

The main skill, though, once you’ve learned how to thread a machine, is patience. I am a very patient person and am able to sit for hours doing really boring jobs. Sewing well, I have found, is all about the preparation – pressing, marking and pinning. If you make a mistake, painstakingly picking out stitches without tearing the fabric is a challenge! When I’m tired or grumpy and rush my work it never turns out as well because I make silly mistakes. I think all crafters will say that the more hours you put into your craft, the better you get. Making your craft space a nice place to work means you will want to put in more hours.

I also saw your amazing design work – I was blown away by your style! How did you learn to do that?

Thank you! When I was studying in Sheffield I was part of an exhibition curation team, and we designed an exhibition called Fabricate held at Millennium Galleries in the city centre. We had reached a dead end with designing a flyer so I made some drawings and scanned them in. I opened them on Pages (Apple’s version of Word) and somehow figured out that I could draw a line and bend it, like you can on Photoshop.

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I have never had Photoshop on my laptop, but I found I could make these drawings on my computer using this free software. It’s basically tracing — I take an image that already exists and draw shapes on top of it to make a digital image. Again, patience is the skill — the drawings can take a long time to create and you have to just be able to work away at it and not get bored.

Who/what inspires you?

People that work from home! I’ve found it hard to get in a routine and not be distracted by house jobs. And it’s quite isolating – not like when you go into work and get to see and talk to all different kinds of people. So to the people who have figured that out: I have loads of respect for you! I think social media is hard work sometimes but I find loads of inspiration online – there is the world’s community of makers showing you that it can be done. Closer to home, I’m really lucky to know a few talented makers who don’t compromise their values and still manage to make some money. Hurray!

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What does 2018 hold for you Posy?

Scary question. Well I’ve got a busy few weeks making softies for Graft pop up in Hexham (open until 22nd December!)  I’ve hardly thought about next year! I do feel like there is potential here to continue making these little animals, which would be amazing — I feel like they are my thing that no-one else does. So I suppose there will be some research time — I think I need to figure out how to work from home, or else find a studio; as well as searching for opportunities to sell my work. I have another small business, Grow to Glow, which makes and sells natural skincare products — my business partner Pia has just gone on maternity leave so I will be looking after that project for a while too. I’ll be doing some design work for packaging and working on a range of healing balms — so I think 2018 is all about making and creating.

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Posy Jowett – creative onion and megababe. Posy – artist, creative, designer, maker, graphic designer, crafter, illustrator and also skin care brand creater….

Posy my absolute favourite creative onion of 2017.

Check out her new business, show her some social media love and until next time Culture Vultures.

Artist Jim Edwards & Craig David Pub cat…..

Two weeks ago I attended Ouseburn Open Studios and was a true Culture Vulture– I took myself around all the galleries and called in to lots artist pals and of course chatted to lots of new creative folk and other attendees. I had a blissful conversation with an artist about the 90s and owning a type writer when I eventually own my own house (I want everyone to be able to type a message when they enter/visit).

Ouseburn Open Studios is such a fantastic vibed weekend – I also like to make sure I buy lots from artists and creatives whilst grabbing a drink in many of the lush bars and independents along the way. Hence my purchasing gets more and more along the way…….

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And I always finish (it’s traditional for me now!) in Jim Edwards studio on the Sunday afternoon and promise myself that when I’m grown up, I’m going to buy myself a Gateshead themed Jim Edwards painting. I love Jim Edwards work – it’s colourful, enthused talent and I always view it with a huge smile on my face – as every single piece to me, looks and feels like home. He depicts many lush scenes from the North East – some iconic, some comfortingly familiar and some perfectly stylised.

One of my favourite pieces of his – depicts Craig David. I imagine – 50% of you reading this, know exactly what I’m talking about and the others, probably think I’m talking about actual Craig David (even typing that makes me call out “can I get rewindddd!”). Craig David was a lovely pub cat – he was a regular lurker at the Free Trade Bar and his spot was on top of the Jukebox. He’d often swagger in and make himself at home or you’d go in for a bev and he’d be in his spot snoozing or watching the world go by……

(732) The Free Trade

Craig David died this year and of course, there was an outpouring on social media. And when he died, I suddenly thought of Jim’s painting – which depicts a quiet Free Trade afternoon with Craig David absolutely in pride of place checking out the view of the Tyne. He’s forever immortalised in that picture. It reminded me why I love Jim’s work so much – real scenes, with real goings on filled with real detail. I love that painting!

So I thought I’d take Ouseburn Weekender as the perfect opportunity to catch up with Jim Edwards – find out more about him, his work and his style.

Hi Jim – right tell me about your journey into the arts?

I’ve always been interested in creating artwork. As a child, it was always the enjoyment of getting lost in a creative practice, and also for the praise that came from making a strong image, and being regarded as good at art.  I had two older brothers who were also good at art, and so the competitive nature between siblings challenged me to become better.

I concentrated on art throughout school, art foundation and a degree in illustration. After I graduated, I wasn’t sure how to continue a career in the arts.  I attempted illustration for a while, but it wasn’t for me.  Whilst working as a picture framer, I started to sell small paintings and drawings at a market on Armstrong Bridge (Jesmond Dene, Newcastle) on Sundays.  I tried out all sorts of work, abstract, surreal, figurative, but the thing that really took off were paintings of Newcastle.  I gave up becoming a picture framer, to give more time painting cityscapes, and I’m still a professional artist 18 years later.

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Tell me about your practice and your strong recognisable style?

I mostly paint contemporary cityscapes and landscapes, centred on the North East.

The style has slowly evolved over time. When I started, it was quite naïve in style.  I worked a lot with biro, with washes of acrylic paint.  I then used hairspray to bleed the biro colour through the paint.  It was an interesting affect I stumbled across by accident, but I stopped this method because it wasn’t good for my health.

For a while my style even went a little bit abstract, but the cityscapes started to become too unrecognisable; I like to play with colour and over exaggerate the light in my nightscapes, I have to build up several  layers of paint to get the desired tonal effect, making the city glow.  A slow process, but rewarding.

My work is strongly rooted in memory, how we remember a place, rather than a straightforward representation. I like to reimagine the cityscape, even if certain elements are forgotten or altered.

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What’s it like being on the Ouseburn creative scene at the moment? Your studio is beautiful!

I’ve been working in the Ouseburn for most of my career, hopping from one studio to the next. One of the earliest was at the Biscuit factory, followed by the Mushroom Works.  Then after a brief 8 month stint in Northumberland, I came back to 36 Lime Street, before taking on my own place at 59 Lime Street.

I couldn’t imagine having a studio outside of the Ouseburn, it feels like my creative home. It’s quietly paced, and feels like an escape from the city, even though it’s quite industrial.  Renowned as the cultural hub of Newcastle, it’s crucial to be here for the numerous open studios events that take place throughout the year.  This is where all the creative venues join forces and open their studio doors to the public.  Whether it’s the Ouseburn Open Studios or The Late Shows, both are valuable to my work.

It’s quite a lonely profession being an artist, which I don’t mind, because I love my own space. But it is beneficial to mix with other like-minded people, to work together of bounce ideas off each other.  So I’m often over at 36 Lime Street having a cup of tea with friends.

(638) Starry Tyne III

How did you go about securing that studio space?

I spotted it was coming up for rent, so jumped at the opportunity to get it. It’s a huge jump in rent, to what I was used to at 36 Lime Street.  But the increase in visitors to my studio, with having on street access, has more than made up for it.  It’s a small, intimate space to work in.  And sometimes I don’t know if the space is a studio or a gallery, so sometimes it struggles to function as both; as long as visitors don’t mind the creative clutter when they pop in.

Any new work or projects you’re working on?

I’m currently working on a few paintings, trying to get them finished before Christmas; including a large canvas of the Ouseburn. I have a huge to do list of paintings, mainly because the ideas come far quicker than I can actually paint them.  And so I’m looking forward to making a start on some paintings of Cullercoats and the Lake District in the New Year, before getting round to everything else on the list.

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And what does it feel like – people coming into your studio and looking at your work?

It’s quite a strange one. It’s always amazing selling paintings, really spurs you on to paint more. Especially being able to meet the buyer and talk about your work, which you don’t normally get in a gallery situation.  The rhythm of creating a painting gets thrown, whenever someone comes in.  It’s surprisingly disruptive, and I probably produce a lot less work these days.  But I can’t complain, it’s important for my work, and I want people to pop in.  And if they buy something, even better!

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Next year – it’s the Angel’s 20th Birthday and also Great Exhibition of The North – obviously, your pieces champion the North East and landmarks – do you see an opportunity for yourself next year?

I’ve got an Angel of the North painting on my studio wall, right now. Hopefully the birthday celebration will encourage it to sell.  Who knows what will happen during the Great Exhibition of the North.  I’ll see if I can tie in my paintings somehow.  There may be an Ouseburn Open Studios event during the event.  I look forward to it, and hope it benefits the creative industries in the Ouseburn.

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One of my favourite pieces of yours is The Free Trade depiction with Craig David in it….. as a Free Trade lover and prolific cat cuddler – it always made me smile and I’m super happy his legacy lives on forever in that piece.

I do like The Free Trade painting too, reminds me of the lazy days spent in there, before children, enjoying a pint. And yes, Craig David pubcat lives on in the painting.  I also like the window view, almost giving a painting within a painting.

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You manage to have successfully develop what I’d class as a commercially sustainable practice – do you have any advice for other artists currently trying to?

I think it’s crucial to know how to position yourself, to know if there’s a gap in the market, and can you create something to fill it. When I was a picture framer, I gauged the sort of paintings people were buying, and I thought there was a lack of cityscapes and landscapes in my style of painting.

You’ve also got to be stubbornly determined in your pursuit; have a fire in your belly to see it through, and not be too distracted by what others think or do.

What’s next for Jim in 2018?

Lots more art and getting through that to do list of paintings. Exploring more, and painting places in the North East I haven’t got to yet.  I really want to get round to painting more of Durham and Hadrian’s Wall, when I have a free moment.  Ouseburn Open Studios returns in March, and the Late Shows in May, plus other events through the year.

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Well thank you Jim – lush to catch up with you! Jim’s Studio is located at: 59 Lime Street, Ouseburn, NE1 2PQ and open Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 4.30pm and Saturday, by appointment – it’s certainly a must see for Culture Vultures and check out his work online too via his website – I just love it so much. And if like me you can’t quite afford a big picture painting – there are lots of prints and greetings cards you will be able to afford!

And of course, big love to Craig David pub cat – the cultural scene misses you!

Till next time Culture Vultures!

Stupid at Arts Centre Washington : a review

So here I am – I’m in Arts Centre Washington Theatre. I’m watching Stupid by Sian Armstrong, directed by Anna Ryder as part of Sunderland Stages Autumn programme.  I’m sat towards the back – near my mum. Mama Horts – we’ve just driven to the venue – she’s lectured me about my career choices on the way.  Still can’t drive.  Still don’t own my own house. Still single. Still unruly hair.

I drank two gin and tonics in the bar. My mum cross because I’m not the best at self-restraint. She’s also annoyed because I was late to meet her. I’m always late.

So we are sat and I’m ready to watch Stupid. This is a play I’ve been excited to see all Autumn. I loved hearing about it when it was in development. I love the story now – I just connect with it. I love that the all-female team behind it – are ladies that I admire and in the spirit of supporting my local girl gang – that’s why I’m posting this.

So my unruly hair and my Mama are sat waiting for the show to start. And the lights go down and I just know I’m going to love it. And then we are on a Ferris wheel. And we are with ‘Stupid’ – but she’s not stupid at all – she’s merely figuring things out’ like many of us still are.

Dumped, single, back home, working out the who, where, what and why of her life whilst pretending to be a functioning adult felt a little (actually VERY) close to home. And I felt every high and low with the character. I literally laughed, I cried and also felt like getting on stage, to tell ‘Stupid’ that she’s absolutely fine, not to worry and she will figure it out.

This one woman show is the best piece of theatre I’ve seen this season. It’s fresh, it’s real, it’s funny, it’s well written and it’s worth seeing. The live drawing excerpts work well as a reflective take to encourage the audience to consider what’s just happened whilst feeding into the undertone that this temporarily lost creative soul, just absolutely needs to be creative and draw.

The set is fantastically minimalistic, full of touches that further Stupid’s characterisation. Each scene from the Ferris wheel, to the pub, to the supermarket, to the classroom, to run, to the school cupboard is so rich with the storytelling that you become immersed in Stupid’s world – a world that at this moment is not quite what she expected, full of societal expectations and the moments when we all question who we are and what exactly we are supposed to be in life; questions that seem terrifying and daunting as nobody has that answer. And then, that absolutely terrifying realisation that we can all be anything we want to be…….

My favourite element of the show was watching it with my mum a.k.a. the infamous Mama Horts. Stupid’s Mum is full of questions and statements about how she should life her life – “why can’t you just get a proper job?”. I sat smiling the whole way through the show because Stupid’s mum is my mum and I’m sure she represents many other well-meaning mums out there. Any straying from conformity, deciding to make my own way in the world and not ticking the societal boxes is just crazy and questioned at every turn. Seeing this dynamic brought to life made me smile.

However, Mama Horts very much did not see herself in the mum character and actually, she perceived the Mum as talking a lot of sense really…… and actually, the whole show reminded her, that she’d always thought I’d be good a teacher and that it would be a stable job but if I ever was going to be a teacher, I’d need to sort my hair out and learn how to dress like a grown up…… uh huh.

Stupid ends on possibilities….. a feeling like many things are possible and I love that. A million and one things are possible irrespective of age and circumstance – I walked away from the show feeling empowered to continue pursuing my own creativity. I feel like I went on a wild emotional ride with Stupid, we hit rock bottom and the story took us both to the end point to champion that life is not about what and who you “should” be and is entirely about figuring out and embracing what you “could” be.

Well done Sian Armstrong and Anna Ryder – it’s a brilliant, well written show that mirrors the hilarity and painful realness of figuring life shit out. I thoroughly recommend and it’s coming to Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle on 28th November….. it’s a must see and tickets are available.

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Stupid by Sian Armstong: “there is no right way – there’s only your way and you have to trust it.”

So hi, I’m the Culture Vulture – if you know me professionally, then you know me as on it, organised, ambitious and together. You might even wonder how I manage to do so much in so little time, how do I keep so many projects on the go, do I sleep!?

Well I’m going to let you into a little secret….. I do sleep. A lot. I prioritise work over my life. My personal life is a bit of a mess. I adult well professionally…. In my social life, my friends know me as scatty, all over the place, disorganised, hot mess etc etc.

I often read those Buzzfeed “if you’re late and/or messy then you’re clever” – makes me feel better but I know that’s I’m just struggling to be a proper adult. I’m super messy, my bedroom often looks like the room of someone having a breakdown and there are main adult mile stones that I thought I would have achieved – but I haven’t got round to it yet or life, well I just play it proudly by own rules, in my own time.

So I’m 31…. I’m trying to figure out my life and the difference between what I should and could. And at 31, professionally and socially – I’ve realised whilst I don’t have it figured out, I’m ok with being a whirlwind. And that’s what I am – a beautiful whirlwind.

So I was super excited when I found out about an upcoming show called Stupid as part of Sunderland Stages on Thursday 2nd November at Arts Centre Washington – it’s all about figuring things out, it’s about realising that no one knows how to adult, not really and life is one hell of an interesting journey.

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I’ve been working as The Culture Vulture with writer Sian Armstrong and Director Anna Ryder recently whilst the show is in development. It’s been such an interesting process to be a part of – the show has absolutely transformed in terms of storyline and concept. A theatre show is so much more than just the end thing the audience gets to see and it’s been a privilege to gain some insight into how a show goes from conception, to scratch, to stage. And the fact, it pretty much seems to be modelled thematically on my life and the character ‘Stupid’ is my honorary soul sister – is just, well brilliant.

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So I’m really looking forward to seeing Stupid this Thursday at Arts Centre Washington and in the interest of championing my local creative #girlgang –  I thought I’d catch up with Sian Armstrong and Anna Ryder ahead of the show’s debut, find out what it’s all about and why other Culture Vultures NEED to go and see this show!

What is Stupid about?

Sian: Stupid is about one woman’s journey to figure out who she is, where she’s going, questioning whether she really is what she feels she is; stupid. It’s about honesty, and sharing stories that often go left unsaid. It’s about owning up to not having a plan, even when we feel like we should have one. It’s about challenging what we deem intelligent to be in our society. It’s about no longer pretending to have the answer.

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Anna: Stupid is about feeling inadequate; that feeling you are one step behind the world and that those ahead of you are imbued with some kind of super-powered resilience and smarts. It explores how ‘stupid’ is such an isolating and individual-defining feeling, when in fact (as with most negative thoughts we harbour about ourselves) it’s existence is only possible when framed alongside other people and its longevity as a feeling is perpetuated by systems and attitudes that are, by design, riddled with classism and sexism. It is a product of our hyper-competitive and one-size-fits all education system.

What can audiences on Thursday expect?

Sian: Audiences should expect honesty, laughter, and a story that hopefully brings people together in the room, talking about the times we’d maybe rather forget – and seeing the power in those stories and the flaws and vulnerabilities we may associate with them.

Anna: Audiences can expect a funny, relatable and inspiring story. It looks at what seems like small experiences and re-frames them as a collective society experience. ‘Not just me then’ can sound twee, but it is amazing how cathartic the feeling can be!

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One line to sum up the show?

Sian and Anna: Brave, magic, relatable theatre that allows you to shake off the desire to always get it right.

Can you tell me about Stupid’s development process?

Sian: I’ve been developing Stupid for about three years now – in 2014 I was asked if I was to make a piece of theatre what would it be about and my immediate answer was ‘feeling stupid’.

I guess this show really began at my kitchen table, back in 2003, with my Dad by my shoulder trying for the umpteenth time, to teach me maths. The equations looked as jumbled as my head felt. I had always felt bottom of the pile when it came to academia and as I have grown, this feeling of ‘not quite sure’ has grown with me – which left me questioning am I seen as stupid? I feel it quite a lot. I think a lot of us do. But what does it really mean?

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The show has taken so many twists and turns since 2014. In the early stages of development, my idea was more focused on Dyslexia – after my best friend got diagnosed with Severe Learning Difficulty in her third year of university; I was fascinated by how late she was diagnosed with this. It was devastating to see how much this affected my best friend’s self-confidence, she felt lost, and couldn’t quite come to terms with it – leading her to quit her degree.

The show has also been influenced by my experience working as a Teaching Assistant and Supply Teacher for a short period of time, this gave me an insight into the pressures teachers and students are under to meet their own individual aims but more depressingly the struggles they sometimes face to tick the right boxes and fit the system they are all part of; especially those who are older, who have recently left or are about to leave higher education, and facing decisions on what’s next.

Throughout the development of Stupid I have done various audience engagement projects, running workshops with potential audiences, from youth and theatre groups, students in schools and online surveys – throughout this experience I have met people who have helped the shows development in various ways, in terms of content but also understanding our audiences and the stories that relate to them.

What was your inspiration for the show?

Sian: My inspiration was the feeling of stupidity itself, and how it exists in us all. We all feel it but what does it really mean?

All the people I have met throughout my development have inspired me in some way – if its answers they gave online or stories they told me about an embarrassing moment; they have all inspired the story I want to tell through Stupid.

I’m also constantly inspired by things I watch on telly or online, I’m obsessed with TED talks and people such as vulnerability expert; Brene Brown and Ken Robinson. I’m also inspired by sitcoms, and films, most recent examples are Fleabag, Girls and The Incredible Jessica James. I’ve found when you’re creating something you get inspired by all your experiences and the conversations you have.

What’s your writing process?

Sian: Pffft. I don’t think I have a process really.

I’m currently working with Caroline Horton who has been amazing to work with. That’s one thing I would recommend for anyone who’s starting to write – find a writer/theatre-maker/performer you admire and ask them to be your mentor. I don’t think I could have done this without the support and advice Caroline has given me so far. I told Caroline recently that I’ve been slightly pressured by trying to find a process that works for me and she said in one of our recent sessions together “The things you read about how to do it right, sometimes you just have to say screw them!…” I found this extremely reassuring and empowering! I’m constantly trying to do things ‘right’ and it’s so nice to have someone tell you – sometimes there is no right way – there’s only your way and you have to trust it.

I do know one thing about my process though – I need to talk to people about it – I do not do well on my own writing at a desk, I’m definitely an extrovert!..Writing can be so lonely – I’ve found talking to people about my writing has helped shut those negative ‘this is shit’ voices out of my head and has opened up exciting conversations that inspired me to go away and write stuff … But I’m definitely still finding my way through it, my process seems to change all the time, especially within a devising process. I like to imagine devising as this big, scary, creative beast and writing as it’s treat!

You got funding for the show’s development – can you tell me a bit about that?

Sian: I have received Arts Council England funding for my development process for Stupid and have been supported by local theatre venues and companies across the region such as Sunderland Stages, Arts Centre Washington, Mortal Fools, Northern Stage and Sunday for Sammy.

All I have to say about funding is there are people that can help you, you just have to ask for it. The ACE application isn’t an easy process, I asked a lot of my friends who had applied before to read my applications, and asked for any top tips they had.

But the best thing to do is meet ACE and get their advice and support. I was terrified when I first had a meeting with Arts Council England, because ‘NEED TO PROVE MYSELF’ was all I could think of – but I found talking to someone at such an early stage isn’t about proving yourself, it’s just about being sensible – and helps you understand the best way to approach your application. I didn’t feel judged in any way, if anything I felt more empowered to actually go for it! … Also when looking for funding try and find ways that YOU might help the people who have money – it works both ways.

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Anna: It sometimes feels hard to vocalise that ‘yes, I am a professional artist’ without feeling silly or wanting to qualify the statement with a self-deprecating remark. Fear of being proved otherwise or fear of the gauche way that this declaration can sound, is fuelled by a lack of tangible ways in which to distinguish the difference in output from a creative ‘hobby’ to that of professional work. Despite all my best intentions and my politics, funding definitely helped towards feeling that my work was legitimate. It was like receiving a felt stamped elephant on your worksheet with the words ‘GOOD JOB’ heralded above. However not long after this initial validation, I began to realise what a ridiculous concept this vindication was built on. The show and intention remained exactly as it had been before a big green arts council tick. The only difference was that it could be realised in a shorter space of time with fewer concerns about paying my rent. While this freedom is not to be played down- the work I wanted to make and my creative ability to do so remained as was before the theatre gods took pity on me and granted me a small sum of money.

Funding is vital, scarce and a life source for those of us trying to get by on zero-hour contracts and the rewards of self-employed artistic projects. However, it is of great importance that we learn to see our creative work as valid, whether we are recipients of a grant or not. We must continue to fight for the legitimacy of what we do and that small voice of doubt in the back of my head was the first barrier I needed to demolish

One thing you want audiences to take away on Thursday after watching Stupid at Arts Centre Washington?

Sian: To be empowered by their own uncertainties, vulnerabilities and potential discoveries.

But what’s next?

Sian: We plan on touring Stupid Nationally in Autumn 2018. So watch this space!

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Well thanks Sian and Anna!

So come join me on Thursday to see Stupid and see the finale moment of this development process. I will be front row – cheering Sian and Anna on – like a proud parent. Excited to feel empowered! Oh and it’s my birthday this week – I’ll be 32 – and will be accepting gin and tonics as gifts (just in case you were wondering) so I’m excited to celebrate my unconventional and chaotic life whilst watching Stupid.

If Stupid was real, we’d defs be mates and she’d be in my girl gang.

Ticket for Stupid are available from here!