#AD – Interview with musician Anthony Vacher ahead of his Lindsfarne Fest main stage shenanigans…..

I’m off to Lindisfarne Festival next weekend, 29th August – 1st September for the ultimate end of Summer party on the Northumberland coast; born out of the desire to create something special for the North East, Lindisfarne Festival came to life in early September 2015, when a 2000 strong crowd descended onto the glorious fields at Beal Farm to experience a weekend like no other. Now into 2019…this lush independent festival is growing year on year – there are still tickets left (less than 400) so you can still join the party.

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Being the Culture Vulture means I get to meet and interview absolutely amazing creative folks – it gives me a total buzz. Folks who are passionate, doing exciting lush things and full of ambition to make a creative mark on the world. For 2019 Lindisfarne Festival ran a Musicians Against Homelessness Unsigned band competition – those who follow social might remember a post, I did about the final short list encouraging votes. Check out the short list, as all of the folks are mega and that’s what festivals are truly about to me…. Discovering new music and shaking myself out of my usual Spotify playlist comfort zone.

MAH put on 100s of gigs & festivals across the UK, creating opportunities and spaces for up-coming talent to play and raise money for homelessness services. Now that’s a double bubble of Culture Vulture love right here, as I’m all about champion independent new talent alongside advocating for positive social change through using my voice. Homelessness is a real issue – I was totally humbled by the recent exhibition across Newcastle “History of Homelessness” – especially when moving from venue to venue, homeless folks were in doors all over the city being ignored and their stories unheard so projects like MAH are imperative.

The winner of the MAH competition secured the opportunity to perform at Lindisfarne Festival 2019 on the bliddy main stage……which for an up and coming musician/band is an amazing opportunity to play to thousands! I was super excited when I heard the winner – he was one of my short list faves and I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing him this week, before his Lindisfarne main stage shenanigans….

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So let’s get this interview started…. Step right up ANTHONY VACHER & THE SILHOUETTES; you can catch Anthony on Friday at the main stage at 1.30pm. Look out for me fan girling at the front, thrashing my elbows around and stomping my feet (a.k.a. “dancing”)……

Singer-songwriter Anthony Vacher has been a familiar name on the North East music scene for some time. Often accompanied by his trademark ukulele and accompanied by his band The Silhouettes; his songs are as beautiful as they are honest but with a real zest for life that fills the heart with joy. He’s also got a LOYAL social media and fan following which have surely helped him to win this competition….

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So hi you, who are you?

I’m Anthony Vacher, hi!

Tell me about your journey into the music scene – when did it all start?

I launched my solo music roughly 2 years ago when I released my first single I Don’t Wanna Wake Up. The legends at Punch-Drunk Comedy who are also at Lindisfarne gave me my first stage to perform on, opening before the comedians play, and it wasn’t long after that I won a competition to play at the O2 and I knew I needed the band behind me to make the shows a much better experience. They’re more just my good mates as opposed to my band because I make nowhere near enough to pay them – hahaha. Chris has been with me from the start but Dom and Gary have just recently joined me.

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So they do it for the love! Sum up your music in three words?

Really tough one cause there’s quite a lot of variety between the full band and acoustic stuff! I think I’ll go, energetic, fun but emotional.

Sounds like you’ve described my life so far…. Can we listen to your music pre-fest to get in the mood? 

Of course! You can find me on all streaming services, Spotify, Apple Music etc, or just head over to my facebook/twitter/insta/whatever your preference is and you can find stuff there too!

facebook.com/anthonyvachermusic

Twitter @anthonyvacheruk

Instagram @anthonyvacher

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What made you enter the Musicians Against Homelessness Comp?

I’ve followed MAH on social media for a while and I only saw the competition on the final night! But a chance to play at Lindisfarne and work with Musicians Against Homelessness was something I couldn’t not apply for.

Aha a last minute larry, a man after my own heart! Why are projects like MAH important?

Homelessness is a huge and growing issue at the moment, and what MAH are doing is incredible. Simultaneously helping homeless people whilst giving upcoming artists huge opportunities to grow, it’s quite simply amazing.

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How did it feel being shortlisted and then seeing the love for you on social media?

It was crazy really, but if I’m honest I had totally forgotten about it! I was just sat at home at the time and saw that MAH had tagged me in a post, and I was like, huh? Then when I looked at it and saw we’d been shortlisted, and it was to play on the main stage, It felt mad! I instantly messaged the lads and we all got hyped up and knew we had to win this.

I’ve actually been away from playing music for a few months due to illness, but seeing that I still had so much support after all that time out was a feeling I simply can’t explain. The amount of shares, comments and people passing the link around was something I’m so grateful for.

Well I was one of the folks championing you – I hadn’t heard of you before the competition shortlist and now you’ve got a firm fan! What did you do when you found out you won and you’re playing the main stage? What went through your mind?

The first thing I did was ring my Mam hahaha! There was a day between the competition ending and them announcing the winner so I actually thought we didn’t get it as we’d heard nothing. I woke up the next day, opened my laptop and the first thing I saw was a picture of my face saying we had won and I went crazy. Great way to start a day!

Happy dances a hoy! What can festival goers expect from your set?

This is a massive opportunity to play in front of a lot of people who have highly likely never heard of me before so we have to put absolutely everything into it. We’ll be playing a mixture of full band & acoustic tunes, so something for everyone!

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Well I’m really looking forward to it and your set. Festivals are all about discovering new music and stepping outside of your comfort zone – is there anything on the festival line up that you think “I might go see/do that!”?

Lindisfarne has a tonne going on. Comedy, street art, even fire walking! I’m planning on making the most of it and catching as much of everything I can!

Who are your top three fellow musician ‘must sees’ at the festival…the line-up is a cracker this year so I know it’s hard to choose?!

The line-up really is amazing this year, so I’m going to avoid the obvious ones and plug some smaller musicians/friends haha!

  1. HATi. I’ve worked with HATi in the past and played alongside her, and she is an incredible songwriter and an amazing musician.
  2. C-Collective. C-Collective are so much fun and they put on an incredible show. You cannot miss them.
  3. Can I name a stage? Cause the MAH Stage has an incredible line up with some amazing local musicians, Sarah Connolly and Sleeptape to name a couple. It’s a stage everyone should 100% go and check out!

Have you played a festival before and/or are you a festival goer?

I’ve only ever played more local festivals which are a tonne of fun, but Lindisfarne will be my biggest to date. I used to work at music festivals too so I’ve been to most!

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Do you have any advice for fellow festival goers?

Yeah, come see us play! But really, just enjoy yourself. There’s so much going on at Lindisfarne so try to catch a bit of everything. Head over to the smaller stages every now and again, go see a bit of comedy, try something new like fire walking or yoga.

Forget what the weather may be, relax or get drunk, whichever you prefer, but pretty much just forget real life for the weekend and enjoy yourself.

Festivals are a total escape from life “good time2 bubble” – Festival drink of choice?

If its sunny get yourself a fruity cider, goes down perfectly!

Are you staying the full weekend? If so I hope you’re embracing the Viking theme and expect mega outfit! 

Sadly due to other commitments the band and I can’t stay the full weekend but we’re staying the full Friday! To be honest I wouldn’t make a very convincing Viking, I have a total baby face and I have tried but can’t grow a beard to save my life!

What’s next for you after Lindisfarne fest? Where can people keep in touch with you post Lindisfarne?

I only have one show lined up following Lindisfarne which sadly I cannot talk about yet! If you follow me on all my social media links then you’ll hear about it very soon:

facebook.com/anthonyvachermusic

Twitter @anthonyvacheruk

Instagram @anthonyvacher

Mainly though, I recently released an acoustic EP, and now we’re planning on recording a lot more music in the very near future so keep your eyes peeled for that too!

𝘽𝙞𝙩𝙚 𝙢𝙮 𝙏𝙤𝙣𝙜𝙪𝙚 is out NOW on all streaming services.

Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2KiMq9o

Apple: https://apple.co/2YSydba

Physical edition: http://bit.ly/2YQxNSB

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Well thank you Anthony, you’re totally mega! Absolute pleasure to see and meet an upcoming musician – I’m excited to see what he does next!

Tickets for Lindisfarne down to the final few hundred so nab them quickly….. http://www.lindisfarnefestival.com

(#AD) Sundown Social -the new mini festival on the block.

So one of the wonderful things about being the Culture Vulture is that I have my ear to ground and seek out all the lush new happenings and stumbling across or finding a new event is one of my favourite things – I have a serious constant case of FOMO.

And if this was a superhero movie, I’d class this chapter as “the rise of the independents!” The event and festival sector is extremely dominated in the region by big corporates or same old same old and I don’t know about you lot, but I’m hungry for more, things that are a bit special and new. Independent event organisers and commissioners are nailing it at the moment –putting on lush events, with a community heart that focuses on audiences having a great time and are able to experiment, take risks, be bold with their programming. I’m loving watching independents thrive.

I’ve had my eye on Saltwell Park for some time….. I’ve lived at the top of it for 30 years and it just screams potential.. I’ve had three ambitions for Saltwell Park as The Culture Vulture – I wanted festivals, I wanted outdoor theatre and I wanted a Silent Disco. My silent disco ambition has become a bit of a joke across my networks as I’m always banging on about it – but going off Beccy Owen’s success and their beach silent disco – I’m happy that other folks are finally buying into how mint it is! So how excited was I when I heard Third Space events (an amazing independent events company) was building on the smash hit successes of their Gateshead food markets and launching Sundown Social on 27th July – an outdoor event with a festival vibe AND a silent disco. And to use Meatloaf’s song title…. two out of three ain’t bad!

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Thirdspace are doing fantastic things and they are certainly ones to watch – their food markets are full of folks who really “get” their events, food traders who love being a part of them (this is not an easy task believe me!), audiences who return month after month and people just having a bliddy good time. It takes a long time to establish an event and A LOT of hard work has gone into things – so hats off to them…..they were on my list for some Culture Vulture love!

Visit their Low Fell Food Market facebook page to see other events they’ve run!

A head of the launch of Sundown Social THIS Saturday in Saltwell Park (Tickets and more info available HERE) – I thought I’d sit down with them for a weeee interview to find out more about the event, what to expect, why tickets are must have and what’s next!

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Of course, sitting down with me a few days before a new event…perfect Culture Vulture timing (haha!). So tell my readers who you are and what you do?

We are Liz and Sally from Third Space Events; a 3 year old events company which specialises in pairing up interesting, beautiful or underused spaces with high quality events. We each have an MA in Event Management along with a total of 15 years’ experience in events, exhibitions and hospitality between us. So it’s fair to say we LOVE events and creating memorable experiences. We are also friends who go way back and share a passion for good food, the outdoors and making the most the time we have with our nearest and dearest.

Well I can’t think of a more underused space than Saltwell Park’s Grove and all the best friendships are formed over food…..What is Sundown social?

A chilled out gathering in beautiful surroundings with a fun, festival vibe – that’s it in a nutshell! The first one is on Saturday 27th July – this weekend. We like to think of it as an exclusive party in the park where you can sip a craft gin or beer under the trees, be entertained by a host of pop up performances and have a bite to eat from some of the regions’ best street food stalls.

We’ve got two slots – one is 4.30pm – 7pm and is family friendly (adults £4.50 & Children £3) and then a more adult session 7.30pm -10pm (Adults £4.50 & Children £4.50). Babies under two are free but need a ticket.

Who should go to Sundown social?

For all! We’ve split the event into two and packed a lot into both. The afternoon session has more of a family vibe with activities such as a play bus and free kids yoga, dance and storytelling sessions. When the kids have run off enough steam the adults can sit back and enjoy a summer tipple along with the finest regional street food. The evening session is more for adults, so people can take full advantage of the food, wine tasting, holistic treatments, amazing local ales and fizz whilst enjoy amazing live musicians, comedians and of course our silent disco.

Why did you pick Saltwell Park for this event?

Because we love it! It’s leafy, lush and green. Add some live entertainment, street food and folk kicking back and relaxing whilst enjoying a cool drink – well you’ve got the best beer garden in the North East!

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As you know, I’m allllll about the food. My Buddha belly is a testament to that….so come on, what food traders have you got?

Well – not only will we be delighting the senses with live music and performances we’ll also have your foodie favourites to feast on. Folk can choose from freshly cooked wood fired pizzas from Noshbox Pizza, Catalinas Newcastle with their flavoursome topdog kebabs and bruschetta, loaded fries and tasty wraps from Hatch76, Acropolis Street Food with the best gyros in the North East, delicious rolled naan with your choice of tasty curry from CurryRolls and Churros Barcelona will be serving up their dangerously delicious fried treats drizzled in chocolate!

Mama Horts LOVES Churros… I shall alert her. I’ve got friends with minis who want to come…what’s there for families?

We’ve got this covered in the afternoon session. As well as the street food and free live entertainment, there is free activities with yoga, dance and storytelling. We also have a play bus and for just £1.50 for your child to climb, slide and play in the ball pool! We also have the amazing Kay Ella who’ll be adding a bit of extra sparkle to the event with her glitter creations.

I’ve got a troop of my child free pals coming…. What is there for them? I’ve heard rumours of a Silent Disco (literally screamed with excitement and hope Britney is on repeat) and my pal Si Beckwith providing some funnies!

If you’re pals are planning to come to sessions 2 then we’d fully expect to see them dancing the evening away with our Silent Disco. We’ll be keeping it old school with hits from the 70s, 80s and 90s – so we recommend your pals to wear these dancing shoes!

The evening will also feature amazing live acts with Duke – Duo – acoustic music, Matt Grant and comedians Si Beckwith and Andrew Flood from Off The Wall Comedy.

They won’t be going thirsty either with regional ales from Black Storm Brewery, fizz on tap with Fizz On The Tyne and a great selection of gins, lagers and wine with The Tipsy Trailer.

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Mama Horts is coming with me and she loves all your events – which is high praise indeed…. What is there for Mama Horts and her pals?

We know Mama Horts is a lady of refinement so a spot of wine tasting with Laneberg Wine Ltd would be right up her street – you can book onto a slot via this link or at the event. Gateshead’s first and only Urban Winery, Laneberg Wine Ltd invites you to a night of wine tasting like no other! Head Winemaker Elise Lane will guide you through their very first vintage made here in the North East, sampling four fantastic 2018 English wines, explaining how each wine was made and giving you the chance to taste.

Or if Mama Horts is after a bit of pampering then she should head over the our Holistic Treatment tent which includes Indian Head Massage and Organic Facial Treatment with Neal’s Yard.

I’m obsessed at outdoor events – at being head to toe covered in glitter….my boyfriend has embraced this by getting involved too….i need glitter deets?

Who isn’t?! We love a bit of sparkle! Expert in all that shines and glimmers Kay’Ella will be at Sundown Social creating that glasto vibe with glitter face and body creators.  We love Kay’Ella because all her products are water based, biodegradable and alcohol free so everyone can be part of her fabulous festival services.

Why are you so passionate about championing and supporting North East (and often Gateshead based) independents?

As we’ve said, we both live in Gateshead so what can be better than supporting your home town by hosting a range of events. Keeping it local is always part of how we operate. From the food, to the drink, to the live entertainment – Sundown Social, like all our events, showcases the melting pot of creativity and hard-working small independent businesses we have here in the North East.

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Blackstorm Brewery

Why do you think people are really buzzing about Sundown social and that tickets have been flying?

Hopefully we’re adding something different into the mix of fabulous events that are offered in Gateshead and the region already. For us the setting of Saltwell Park for this kind of event could not be any better. We can’t wait to welcome everyone in the event on Saturday 27 July and to have a well earned drink (or two) when it’s finished.

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Sum up the event in 3 words

Chilled, feel-good, fun

Is there going to be more Sundown socials?

The next Sundown Social lined up is Friday 23rd August. Stay tuned for announcements about that! Next year, as well as Saltwell Park, you will be able to find us at some new exciting venues and locations across the region.

P.S. For any of you festival loving couples who are looking for an alternative wedding, give us a shout as we offer individually curated Sundown Socials for your special day. How exciting!

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If I was going to get married, I’d want an outdoor festival vibe! You’ve certainly tapped into something there….and we’ve got some collaborating to do in 2020 haven’t we!? I’m super excited for Saturday and to see how this grows and grows.

Well you will find me down at Sundown Social on Saturday as The Culture Vulture with my gal Marion in tow – so if you’re around and coming along– make sure to say hello!

Tickets for Sundown social are available here!

Disclosure : I have not been paid to write this post but I have been given comp tickets to the event and doing a social media take over on the second second.

(#AD) GemArts Masala Festival 2019: strutting into Summer like a Bengal Tiger….

We are so blessed in the North East for wonderful events and festivals all year round – there are often total gems in the event/festival calendar that due to you all being busy bees that you might not know about or discovered yet. I see my role as Culture Vulture to tell you about them and champion them!

Well let me tell you about a PROPER Culture Vulture festival gem – GemArts’ Masala Festival….

This award winning, multi venue festival has been running for several years and has been growing each time. It’s back for 2019 across 15th – 21st July 2019 with a mix and blend of the finest South Asian Arts and Culture. They’ve got an incredible line up of film screenings, theatre, music, yoga on the beach, Bollywood dancing, crafts, spoken word, poetry and free family fun!

I sat down with Vikas Kumar MBE, GemArts Director recently for a catch up (I’ve been a GemArts supporter for many years now and he’s been a Culture Vulture champion since the beginning!) and to interview him about this year’s festival. But before I get into our interview, I thought I’d walk you through this year’s Masala Festival programme…because it’s a corker!

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GemArts in The Crack Magazine

Masala Festival launches on 15th July, at Sage Gateshead, with an incredible collaboration and special evening of music composed and performed by the internationally renowned Sarod maestro Ustad Wajahat Khan with a String Quintet from our region’s fantastic chamber orchestra Royal Northern Sinfonia. And if you’re like me, and have to be the first at everything, then you’ll be joining me at this feast of music. I’ve seen RNS quite a few times and they are quite something, so I’m excited for this collaboration.

This is followed by, on the 16th July at the Lit & Phil, two of the most prominent women on the contemporary jazz scene, pianist Zoe Rahman performs alongside saxophonist Laura Macdonald. These two ladies are at the top of their music game and so accomplished…. I will be fan girling from the audience. And after the show, why not continue the Jazz theme and swing Prohibition Bar…that’s why I will be headed!

For spoken word and poetry, look no further than Luck and Hope: an evening of poetry with two of the best poets writing today Mona Arshi and Imtiaz Dharkar at Culture Lab on 16th July. I know those in the poetry scene are extremely excited about that one! They also have a a stellar line up of regional spoken word talent in Strictly Spoken with at Arch16 on18th July which is now sold out. Spoken Word largely thanks to Button Pottery and the likes of McNish has jumped in popularity and the fast, Strictly Spoken has sold out highlights that – but good news is, that I’ve nabbed tickets just in time, so I will let you know what it’s like!

Masala Festival has a fantastic line up of films and this is music to my ears as since turning 30, I’ve really got back into my independent films and visiting the cinema at least once a week. At Masala Festival they’ve got the heartwarming, ‘feel good’ comedy of the year Eaten by Lions on 15th July; half-brothers Omar and Pete are on a journey of discovery via Blackpool, featuring Jonny Vegas, Jack Carroll and rising star Antonio Aakeel. At Tyneside Cinema on 17th July, they’ve got The Sweet Requiem with stunning cinematography and subdued tension highlights the ongoing and often forgotten Tibetan refugee crisis. This film, feels extremely timely and I’m sure will provoke a lot of reflections.  At BALTIC on 19th July, GemArts are screening Woman.; a specially curated evening of  contemporary South Asian film shorts about freedom, desire, resistance and the indomitable spiriot of women.

Writer, performer and professional wrestling manager (natural combo!), Pariah Khan brings his ‘shrewd and bitingly funny’ An Indian Abroad to Northern Stage on 20th July; we follow the story of Krishnan, who is stifled by life in middle class India and decides to visit the exotic island of Great Britain. This is a hilarious journey of self-discovery especially when he falls in love with one of the “natives”.

If you want to get yourself moving, why not try out Bollywood dance on 20th July,  yoga on the beach  on 21st July or if you are in need of a little TLC before your summer holidays try out an introduction to Meditation on 15th July.

Masala Festival is back at Dabbawal Street Food Kitchen. Over seven days, you can sample a specially crafted and delicious menu created by Dabbawal’s talented chefs. I’m a HUGE fan of Dabbawal’s food – as soon as I found out they did gluten free onion bhajis and lush spicy curries, I’ve been visiting lots ever since. I’m planning on going a few times to work my way through the menu…..

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GemArts Masala  Festival ends on a total high on Sunday 21st July at Live Theatre’ Garden with a spectacular FREE fun packed Mini Mela finale, with South Asian arts, craft, music and dance workshops for all of the family to enjoy! This year enter a seafront arcade in a caravan with ….. Elvis’ Bingo Balls, neon, sounds of the slots and an Indian Elvis as your bingo caller! Not to mention Circus Raj, a circus troupe from India performing throughout the day, with stilt walkers, extreme juggling, sword swallowing and acrobatics, plus dancing marionettes, Dabbawal serving up delicious Indian street food, and much, much more…..

Visit www.gemarts.org to find out more and book tickets.

Look out for GemArts Masala Festival beautiful brochure around Newcastle and Gateshead or download your full brochure here GemArts Masala Festival 2019 Brochure

And if that hasn’t convinced you to come along to Masala Festival starting on Monday, well…. Let’s hand over to Vikas Kumar MBE, GemArts Director to find out more!

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So I know how important GemArts is to our region but for those who haven’t heard of GemArts, tell us what GemArts is?

GemArts is an arts organisation and charity based in the North East of England.  We are a nationally recognised leader in the South Asian and diversity arts sector, and we create, produce and programmes high quality concerts, events, festivals, workshops and commissions with regional, national and international artists across all art forms. GemArts is committed to excellence in our participatory arts practice, particularly supporting artists working in the diversity sector, and we specialise in delivering arts projects with schools and community groups across all age ranges, to provide creative and enjoyable learning experiences, and to promote a greater understanding of people and their respective cultures.

Why and When did GemArts start?

GemArts started in 1992, working in Gateshead primarily and then across the North East.  We now work Nationally and Internationally through our commissioning and touring programme.  We passionately believe the arts enrich the lives of individuals and communities through celebrating our shared cultural diversity – Raising aspirations, building stronger communities and breaking down barriers.

We know that inequalities exist, and many communities and artists face social, economic and cultural barriers, so are excluded from taking part; this is disproportionately more so if you are from a Black, Asian, minority ethnic, asylum seeker or refugee background.  GemArts mission and focus is to increase equality of opportunity for everyone to engage with culturally diverse arts – as artists, producers, participants and audiences.

I’ve told everyone about what Masala Festival is in the present (top of this blog) – but can you tell us what was the inspiration behind starting it?

The festival is a mass of GemArts yearlong programme condensed into one colourful and creativity fuelled week in July.  We wanted to really show the breadth of incredible artists and art forms from the Indian subcontinent and diaspora, and celebrate the fantastic contribution that South Asian communities and culture has made to the region, UK and the world.  Masala itself is a mix of spices that goes in a curry or tea; we’ve taken that concept and replaced the spices with amazing arts and culture!

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Oh I like that Vikas! Masala festival is award winning (in fact I can remember “whooping” for you in the audience) which is just fantastic as I know you are such a small but perfectly formed team who work so hard, so to get that recognition is lush; can you tell us about the award? 

GemArts Masala Festival won the coveted Arts Council Award at The Journal Culture Awards in 2017, which was brilliant for everyone involved!  And we were runner up for Best Event Tyneside in 2018, which again is great recognition…..hopefully more in the future!

How would you describe Masala Festival to someone who hasn’t been before?

Since its launch in 2016, the weeklong festival has become a yearly celebration of South Asian arts and culture, bringing thousands of people to experience the best music, dance, theatre, visual arts, film, literature, performances, workshops, pop, ups, talks, family fun days, food events and much more.

The programme presents a diverse mix of contemporary and traditional South Asian artists, art forms and identities, produced and curated by GemArts, working with artists from the UK and Indian sub-continent.

This year the festival is across even more venues than ever before and the programme feels jam packed – is the intention to keep growing it year after year?

We’ve always had aspirations and ambitions to grow and develop the festival, and it has year on year.  We are very lucky in Newcastle and Gateshead to have so many amazing flagship venues who we work in partnership to present work.  Accessibility and ownership is something which is fundamentally important to GemArts, and we are absolutely committed to working with independent and community venues to programme arts and cultural experiences by, with and for communities, so we always want to build on our current work.  It would be great to expand the festival further South of the region……..watch this space!

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Last year’s GemArts festival launch as part of Gateshead Council’sGreat Exhibition of The North programme

Why are independent festivals like this important in the North East? 

Independent festivals are massively important because they shine a light on artists and art forms which might not get a look in otherwise.  They are culturally relevant and enable communities to celebrate their identities; people see their traditional and contemporary lives and stories reflected in venues and spaces.  Independent festivals, like Masala Festival, absolutely demonstrate that in the North East creativity and diversity is thriving and championed, and that we can connect on so many levels across so many experiences  whether that’s food, music, dance, etc .  We need more of this now than ever.

We absolutely do Vik!Tell me a bit about this year’s festival programme?

The design of this year’s Masala Festival brochure is just brilliant, if I do say so myself….you need to see it to believe it!

GemArts is (literally and visually) strutting into summer like a Bengal tiger as we bring the region another magnificent Masala Festival!  Over 7 days, from 15th to 17th July we are thrilled to present another  incredible line up of classical, traditional and contemporary artists from the UK and Indian sub-continent exploring themes of home, belonging, freedom, resistance, luck and hope.  We have music, dance, theatre, visual arts, film, literature, performances, workshops, pop, ups, talks, family fun days, food events and much much more.

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I’m excited! You always start the festival with a big of a bang with a launch event, what’s in store this year for the launch? 

Launching Masala Festival on 15th July, at Sage Gateshead, we have an incredible collaboration and special evening of music composed and performed by the internationally renowned Sarod maestro Ustad Wajahat Khan with a String Quintet from our region’s fantastic chamber orchestra Royal Northern Sinfonia.  It’s going to be epic!

I’m really looking forward to attending Woman at BALTIC – feels like a very pertinent time to be showing film shorts about women in the current climate; have you seen any of the shorts? Is there one that you are most looking forward to seeing?

Curated by Bobby Tiwana, this year’s shorts programme on 19th July at BALTIC is inspired by the political act of being a woman; exploring themes of freedom, desire and resistance. You can read about Bobby’s film choices in his blog post here and why as a man he has curated a programme about women.  I have seen all the films, and ‘The Field’ is a beautifully crafted short set in rural Punjab in India.  I’m from Punjabi heritage, and go see family in Punjab whenever I visit, so it particularly resonated with me, especially the scenery.  I’m looking forward to seeing War-ia again as it was written and directed by Bobby. We also have a post-screen discussion with filmmakers Sandhya Suri and Riffy Ahmed which will give a great insight into their creative process.

Don’t forget your complimentary glass of wine or juice on arrival!

I’ve fallen in love with poetry – both written and spoken word performance – I literally hit 30 and it just happened. You’ve got quite a few poetry related events as part of the event programme, can you tell me a bit about them?

We are working in collaboration with curator Dr John Challis and NCLA to present Luck and Hope on Tuesday 16th July at Culture Lab, an evening of poetry with two of the best poets writing today, Mona Arshi and Imtiaz Dharkar, whose poetry explores the nuances of luck, grief and hope within our often violent and unsettling contemporary world.

Then on Thursday 18th July we have a stellar line up of North East talent in Strictly Spoken (it’s sold out!) at Arch16.  We have Tahmina Begum, Prerana Kumar and Wajid Hussain presenting spoken word and poetry on identity, South Asian heritage and inspiration.

It’s really exciting that you’ve taken some of the festival out to Whitley Bay – WB is having a real evolution as an independent cultural hub of the region – what made you take some of Masala out there? 

GemArts has been working with Jam Jar cinema for a while now, and they are always up for working with us and programming films with a South Asian flavour during Masala Festival.  It enables us to expand our cultural offer and engage new audiences up in Whitley Bay.  We’ve got heart-warming, ‘feel good’ comedy of the year Eaten by Lions, which follows half-brothers Omar and Pete on a journey of discovery via Blackpool, featuring Jonny Vegas, Jack Carroll and rising star Antonio Aakeel.

For those who attend Masala Festival every year/have attended before, what would be your recommendation as a “must experience”?

I’d recommend two things:

If you’re looking for a night out and a good laugh – Definitely recommend An Indian Abroad, as writer, performer and professional wrestling manager, Pariah Khan brings his shrewd and bitingly funny show to Northern Stage on Saturday 20th July.  It’s getting great reviews as it tours the UK, and we are delighted to be presenting at Masala Festival this year.  It follows the story of Krishnan, who is stifled by life in middle class India and decides to visit the exotic island of Great Britain.

I’d also recommend The Sweet Requiem at Tyneside Cinema on 17th July with stunning cinematography and subdued tension it highlights the ongoing and often forgotten Tibetan refugee crisis

For those who haven’t been to Masala Festival before, what would you recommend them checking out to introduce them to the Masala vibe?

The true Masala vibe will be at the Lit & Phil on the 16th July; we have two of the most prominent women on the contemporary jazz scene, pianist Zoe Rahman performs alongside saxophonist Laura Macdonald. This will be a powerhouse of a performance, and guaranteed to sell out so get your tickets quick!

What about for those, who prefer to have a go at something….what do you suggest?

We’ve got a whole host of workshops that people can take part in Bollywood dance, yoga on the beach, or an introduction to Meditation.

Also check out the Chai & Chat exhibition at Gateshead Central Library, beautiful textile artwork inspired by traditional chai recipes.  You can also take part in paper tea cup making.

Full details to book on workshops see www.gemarts.org

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GemArts Bollywood Dance workshops as part of Late Shows 2019

Through-out the festival, you’ve got a bespoke special menu at Dabbawal, which is my favourite place to get a curry, so i’m excited for the Masala menu! Can you tell me a bit about the (commissioned!?) art work, you have on the walls at one of Dabbawal’s restaurants?

Dabbawal are the original authentic street food restaurant in the region, and it’s always a pleasure to work with them – their food is simply outstanding!  Each year their talented chefs craft a special menu which is available during the festival, and we can’t wait to sample it!

Our artist Kate Hunter Parker will be creating art work inspired by this year’s Masala Festival brochure design, as well as elements from the programme and the menu, so expect to see vibrant, luscious and colourful work at both High Bridge and Jesmond restaurants.

So the finale…. any yearly Masala Festival goer knows that you round off the festival in style with a mini Mela at Live Theatre courtyard for families and adults alike. Can you tell me about this year’s Mela programme, what can attendees expect?

GemArts Masala  Festival ends on Sunday 21st July at Live Theatre’ Garden with a spectacular fun packed Mini Mela finale, with FREE South Asian arts, craft, storytelling, music and dance workshops for all of the family to enjoy! If you love caravans, bingo and Elvis, then look no further as this year’s finale brings you…….. Elvis’ Bingo Balls –  enter a seafront arcade in a caravan with neon, sounds of the slots and an Indian Elvis as your bingo caller! We’ve also got Circus Raj, a circus troupe from India performing throughout the day, with stilt walkers, dhol drummers, extreme juggling, sword swallowing and acrobatics, plus dancing marionettes, Dabbawal serving up delicious Indian street food, and much, much more…..

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How on earth, did you stumble across the Indian Elvis bingo caller? He sounds brilliant and fellow Culture Vultures who love things a bit out there and different will be all over this! ?

This is going to be so special!  We really wanted to introduce something new and exciting to this year’s mini mela which will connect with young and older audiences alike, and Elvis’ Bingo Balls absolutely will.  The theatre piece has been produced by Black Country Touring and it’s great that we can bring it up here for the finale.

It’s perfect, as it’s the start of the summer holidays and you’ve got a bingo caller clad in his Elvis outfit, telling stories of moving to this town ‘so every day can be a holiday’……what’s not to love!?

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And finally, if you could sum up Masala Festival 2019 in three words, what would they be?

  1. Epic

2.Vibrant.

  1. Fun

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Mini Mela 2018 as part of Masala Festival 2018

Well thanks Vikas and I just can’t wait! I’m taking over GemArts social media during the launch on Monday AND during Mini Mela, AND I will be attending lots of Masala events so you can follow my journey on my Facebook & Insta.

Visit www.gemarts.org to find out more and book tickets.

Look out for GemArts Masala Festival beautiful brochure around Newcastle and Gateshead or download your full brochure here GemArts Masala Festival 2019 Brochure

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Circus Raj Puppets which are set to be at Mini Mela

That’s all for now Culture Vultures – until next time!

P.s. I’ve had the exclusive opportunity to interview several Masala festival artists and performers – so look over for those interviews coming out in the next week or so!

(Full disclosure: I am not being paid to write this post but I have received complimentary tickets to the full GemArts Masala Festival 2019 programme and I am working with them on the festival’s audience development).

Enchanted Parks 2018 the Artist edition…..celebrating outdoor art and hidden stories with Helen Yates!

We’ve been blessed across the North this year for outdoor festive events – you could literally attend something lush and magical every day and night. When you’re attending you might forget that these events are only possible thanks to a mega team of creatives; a project team and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears that make such events happen. Since I’ve started working on outdoor events as The Culture Vulture, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for these people and all the artists/creatives involved.

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The Finders Keepers at Enchanted Parks, Theatre Space NE (Photo: Rich Kenworthy)

I recently attended this year’s Enchanted Parks at Saltwell Park; Enchanted Parks is an outdoor after dark arts adventure around the park with light installations, sound, performance – all based around a theme. This year the theme was The House of Lost and Found – the story of a mysterious travelling circus that collects lost things and reunites them with their owners. You can get a sense of this year via this year’s professional photos from local (and bliddy amazing) photographer Rich Kenworthy.

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Enchanted Parks 2018 Photo: Rich Kenworthy

In my opinion, it was a great year and I loved all of the installations – quite different than previous and pushing the boundaries! A firm favourite of mine was an installation called ‘Precious and Found’ by Helen Yates – Burning Light Arts. Helen’s installation consisted of hanging in the branches of the Cherry Tree Walk in Saltwell Park, a series of birdcages hosting a fascinating array of curiosities, each with a story to tell.

I became really curious about what it’s like to be behind the scenes, working on this type of event and the artist experience! How scary mary, but also lush to have your artwork out there for all to see – night after night! So I decided to reach out to Helen Yates for the artist perspective – to find out more about her piece, how she came to be a part of this year’s Enchanted Parks and of course, her Enchanted Parks experience as an artist!

So step forward Helen Yates, one of this year’s Enchanted Parks’ artists!

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

Hi Helen, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you – so let’s start at the beginning for my Culture Vultures; tell me about you? Who are you?

Who am I? Strangely enough I made a piece a number of years ago with that very title, a textured, wax wall piece that incorporated the phrase in as many languages as I could track down. Some languages don’t even have the words to be able to ask the question!

Me? Well…… I have had a number of labels over the years: artist, lead artist, educator, lecturer, project manager, workshop leader, schools’ artist….I reckon my most enduring labels have been mother and artist.

Can you describe your arts practice?

I am one of those people that loves to gather new skills, materials and processes; so my work varies. I feel I have succeeded whatever the piece is, if I can create a response, a need to touch or discover more. Site specific installation tends to be my preferred way of working at the moment. I want to make work that fits the people and place that it is intended for and introduce some elements of hidden stories and thoughts for people to question. Temporary installations are great because people and places change, so I like that the work doesn’t feel static.

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The Lost and Found Tree, Dave Young at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

I ask every artist I interview this question….what was your journey into the arts?

From a very young age, I loved to read and draw. My mum would order me outside to ‘get some fresh air’ when she thought I had stayed in my room to long…. I would take my books and pencils outside and sit until I went numb with cold.

Throughout my life I have drawn, made and created things. My journey wasn’t as typical as most but I was always determined to go to college and university to ‘prove I was a creative’, so just after my son was born I did. I gained my degree and 2 daughters along the way! From there I hounded my local arts officers and officially became an artist. Three children and tight finances led to diversifying into college teaching and from there into arts development whilst still working as an artist.

What inspires your practice?

There are probably three things that have been extremely influential in shaping what I do. The first was at Uni; I obsessively drew and painted large scale nude figures in empty spaces – I wanted to portray being ‘human’. Secondly, when asked why I never incorporated objects or clothes, my response was that these things labelled people, put them in categories, people made assumptions. The more I thought about it, it led me to thinking about the power of objects and how we respond to them. I have always loved history, so archaeology and how objects are used to build pictures of long gone people become the overriding theme in my work…. Objects ruled! The third event was my visit to the Tate modern some years ago and seeing Cornelia Parkers Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View – she exploded a shed and its collection of objects into thousands of pieces and then reconstructed them in mid-air, creating a still, quiet and beautiful moment in time from a noisy, destructive moment in time. I saw how installations transformed and created their own spaces and this idea has stayed firmly in my mind.

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Cornelia Parkers Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View

Can’t believe I’d forgotten about Cornelia’s piece – went to see it at the Tate and WOW! But back to you….You had an installation at this year’s Enchanted Parks – how did that come about?

I came across the opportunity and loved the theme…. The idea of storytelling and lost objects immediately caught my attention. I have collaborated with storytellers on previous projects; I feel it’s a wonderful way of creating a new link between the work and audience. It invites people into thinking about an objects past, its meaning and the people that owned it. I want my work to engage children as well as adults so this commission had the possibility to do all of that. So I applied and I am extremely glad to say I was asked to create my proposal for the Cherry Tree walk at Saltwell Park.

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What was the inspiration behind the piece?

The overriding theme of the commissions for Enchanted Parks 2018 was put forward within the brief and some images were sent within this to visualise these ideas. Within this was an image of a contortionist who had squeezed into a birdcage, it was a very striking image, if a little sinister! From here I wondered where Peter Chavalier (travelling circus leader) might store all his found objects on his travels and birdcages seemed very portable and just the kind of thing he might use to keep the found objects safe. They also seemed an excellent way of lighting and displaying the Precious and Found objects.

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Helen during the rigging process for Enchanted Parks 2018

How did you chose what items went inside the cages? Loved the Octopus and it was a firm favourite for visitors!

Thank you! The items were inspired by my research into what items have ended up in lost property offices around the world and it seems some very unusual items have been found, including an octopus on the London underground – probably not as big as the one in Precious and Found… but you never know! Can you begin to imagine though how anyone can lose a bag of skulls, a prosthetic leg or a missile guidance system? Of course others are more usual, the teddy bear and the puffer fish (well maybe not!!).

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What does it feel like having families and culture vultures seeing your work every night and engaging so positively with it?

It makes me smile, even when I saw a toddler vigorously tugging at the octopuses leg one half of me was worrying that the leg would stay on, the other was chuckling and loving the intense concern that the child had, wanting to free a foam and latex, pink octopus..… I love the interaction…. It’s why I do it.

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What did you think of this year’s Enchanted Parks theme?

Excellent! It has given rise to a lot of varied and excellent work. I feel the way the theme has been created is extremely creative in itself …. Well done Enchanted Parks!

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The Little Legionnaires of Lost and Found Studio McGuire at Enchanted Parks 2018 – Photo: Rich Kenworthy

I recently found a story about a day in the life of a chicken written by a 6 year old me – it’s so lush and pure; I don’t remember being obsessed with chickens but apparently I was a big chicken fan as a mini….have you ever found something that you thought you’d lost forever?

That’s a lovely story….chickens make excellent children’s characters! Unfortunately my response is not so lovely. After a brain injury some years ago, I lost the ability to walk, communicate and draw even a simple circle! Over the following years I found all these things again.  Words can’t explain my relief at knowing they were not lost forever.

The Little Legionnaires of Lost and Found Studio McGuire at Enchanted Parks 2018 – Photo: Rich Kenworthy

They say that the brain never really forgets – it’s just the path to remembering which is damaged. Whilst all the pieces are fantastic this year – do you have one that stands out and you’d say is one of your faves?

Can I cheat and chose two? I love And Now’s piece with its carousels and fire garden and the lost and found labels hung by the visitors are a treat to read. Whilst that piece is beautiful low tech, I also love The Mcguires’ Studio pieces, The Little Legionnaires, I love the mix of tech wizardry and the beautifully constructed 3D elements that make up their enchanting illusions.

Merry Glow Round, And Now at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

Now EP is done and dusted – do you have a bit of down time? Christmas plans?

Not yet, I have workshops in schools immediately after the de installation, after that hopefully a mince-pie and brandy or two might be in order!

Looking back across the year, tell me about a highlight for you/your practice in 2018?

2018 has been a good year for work – I have been kept busy and produced work that I have enjoyed creating so I can’t ask for more. Of course Enchanted Parks has been my highlight, great people, great place, met lots of interesting artists from around the country, excellent food (think I’ve put on half a stone!) all in all a very lovely and interesting opportunity.

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Nova by Studio Vertigo at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

What is on the horizon for you 2019?

I enjoy collaborating with other artists, especially when they bring very different skills to the mix, so I have a couple of ideas in the pipeline…..watch this space!

Well thank you Helen! Such an interesting insight into being a part of Enchanted Parks and it’s been lush to hear about the artist experience. Really looking forward to seeing how Helen’s 2019 unfolds….

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

Promise not to leave it soon long Culture Vultures!