Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Fusion At 17 Claypath

Lumiere Installation Returns To Durham

Fusion, one of the highlights of Lumiere 2011, has returned to Durham City as part of an exciting new exhibition by light artist Mick Stephenson. This time you can see it up close and personal at Durham's new contemporary art space, 17 Claypath. The exhibition is open Wed 12th Dec - Mon 24th Dec, 12pm-7pm. Full details at

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Damned At Newcastle 6/12/12

Higgs Boson Seen At Closing Time

Contemporary Art Stain At 17 Claypath

Is This The Hardest Toilet In Newcastle?

Proper Halloween Lantern (No Pumpkin Shite)

Caffeine Visions Of The DC M&S

New Seeds Remasters On Big Beat

Connoisseurs of garage rock will be delighted with the newly remastered editions of the Seeds back-catalogue. The essential first album is available just in time for Christmas with extensive sleeve notes by leading LA Garage Rock Consultant Alec Palao and enough bonus cuts to double its length. Even better, the rest will be coming out in bumper double CD editions next year. The Seeds were the Ramones of the 1960's - if you don't know them, there's never been a better time to check 'em out.

PiL Live In Newcastle 6/8/12

At The Death Disco

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The 128th Durham Big Meeting - 14/7/12

If you like heavy drinking, extreme colliery brass and political speeches, there's only one place to go and that's The Durham Miners' Gala, or Big Meeting as it's more usually known. Held every second weekend in July, it is a tradition unique to Durham City and has been held most peacetime years since 1871. The coal mines are now long gone, but their beautifully painted lodge banners and brass bands remain and the Gala carries on as a heritage event with real political teeth. This year, the speakers included the Murdoch-slaying MP, Tom Watson, Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty and two striking Spanish miners fresh in from the picket lines of Asturias. Best of all, we had the Leader Of The Labour Party, Ed Miliband. Traditionally, the Gala speakers have always included the Labour leader of the day, from Keir Hardie through to Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson, but none had condescended to turn up since Neil Kinnock in 1989 (despite the fact that Tony Blair's constituency was just around the corner in Sedgefield). Ed ended the 23 years of hurt with a rousing speech that warmed the hearts of the faithful and confirmed Durham's place at the heart of the national political debate. Seventy banners, fifty bands and a crowd of over 40,000 people 'getting their rights' cannot be written off so easily. As Dave Hopper, General Secretary of The Durham Miners Association put it: 'There's a world to be won. I hope Ed Miliband wins that world for us'.

Ed Miliband At Durham Miners' Gala

In Your Face Colliery Brass

Music For Solo Viola At Healey Church

St John's Church at Healey in Northumberland is hosting an evening of solo viola music on Saturday, the 8th of September 2012 at 7.30 pm. Bridget Carey will be performing pieces by Hildegard Of Bingen, Heinrich Biber, Gyorgi Ligerti, Gerald Grisey and Howard Skempton on viola, with electronics by Paul Archbold. The event is being co-ordinated by John Casken. Tickets are £10, available only in advance from

G4S - Another Failure Of The Private Sector

We hear a lot about the alleged failures of the public sector from the blaring, hate-filled right-wing Tory press, but now the boot is very much on the other foot. First News International, then Barclays and now G4S have been exposed by Parliament for the sort of organisations they really are. Does anyone really believe that our health service, police and military would be better run by people like these? Only the Tory party and their quisling Lib Dem collaborators do - and we know exactly what message to give to these incompetent swine at the next general election.

Departure Of The Olympic Torch

Arrival Of The Olympic Torch

Hawkwind At Middlesbrough Town Hall 30/5/12

When I first saw Hawkwind back in 1980 at Newcastle City Hall, I never suspected that I'd be seeing them over 30 years later just down the road in Boro - or that they'd be just as good, if not better. Dave Brock is still at the helm on rhythm guitar and for someone who's well into bus pass territory, he's looking surprisingly up for it. We are talking over two hours of extended space rock/ambient jamming with dancers, light show and lengthy reworkings of old favourites such as Hassan-I Sahba, 'Psychedelic Warlords' and a 20 minute 'Damnation Alley'. I haven't a clue what Hawkwind are on, but it should be freely available to all on the NHS.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Durham Ghost Zeppelin

I was walking through North End last Tuesday when I happened to glance up and see an astonishing sight. For there, hovering above me in the twilight, was the legendary Durham Ghost Zeppelin. I grabbed my mobile and quickly took these pictures before the apparition faded away into the darkness. You can clearly see the scale of it from the houses and trees in the street.

According to local folklore, the Durham Ghost Zeppelin is the spectre of the German naval airship L34 that was shot down in flames over Hartlepool on September 27th 1916. Ever since then, the phantom dirigible has been seen regularly, patrolling the skies over County Durham as if the First World War had never ended. Some witnesses have claimed that they could hear the distinctive throbbing sound of her Maybach petrol engines; others say that they could even hear the sinister sound of marching jackboots on the zeppelin's ghostly gangways.

German records say that the L34 had never been expected to fly that night back in 1916, due to a long spell of bad weather. In fact, the ship's commander, Kapitanleutnant Max Dietrich, had been celebrating his 46th birthday at the airbase, when, at the last minute, the orders were received to attack. The abrupt end to the festivities had left a sombre impression on the airship officers at the party, two of whom were destined to die that night. Perhaps it is this sense of grievance and unfinished business that drives the commander of the L34 and his ghostly crew ever onwards towards an inflatable eternity.

Local Playwright Makes Digital Debut

Renowned Durham City Theatre stalwart and open mic regular, Chris Neville-Smith, has set up a new website at

Log on and you can follow his exploits as both actor and writer in the cut-throat world of DC’s theatreland.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

De Stijl Debate Rages On In Durham City

Thanks to Janiece Spence for this image from last year's production of 'Crossing The Line' at the Durham City Theatre.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Planet Mercury At Greatest Eastern Elongation

Look due south in the evening sky this month and you can't fail to see the spectacular sight of the planets Venus and Jupiter in close conjunction. Look to the east later in the night and you can also see a spectacular view of Mars, shining a bright copper red in the constellation of Leo. But they're just the obvious ones. With a little bit of effort, you can also get a rare glimpse of Mercury: the most elusive planet you can see with the naked eye.

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun and is usually lost to view in the solar glare; however, there are a few times each year when the planet is at the farthest point in its orbit from the sun (as viewed from here on Earth) and can briefly be seen, either just before sunrise, or just after sunset. At the moment, Mercury is at its greatest eastern elongation, which means that you have a window of about an hour to spot it in the early evening sky - assuming the weather is favourable of course.

So, find yourself a clear view of the southwestern horizon and start looking after the sunset from about 6.45 pm onwards, when the sky should be just about dark enough. Mercury will be low down, close to where the sun has just set and well below Venus and Jupiter. It will be the only star-like object visible in that area of sky.

I went looking for Mercury myself this evening and finally spotted it just after 7.00 pm, at about 10 degrees above the horizon. Once you've clocked Mercury, it is quite distinctive and looks like a pale, solitary star with a slightly pinkish hue. You will have to look hard to find it, but it isn't something you can see every day, so why not give it a shot? Mercury is visible until March 10th when it will be too close to the sun once again. And even if you can't make it out, you can always enjoy watching the beautiful stars of Orion, Canis Major and Taurus as they magically appear in the darkening skies.

Hokusai At Durham Oriental Museum

If you're thinking of visiting the new Hokusai exhibition at Durham's Oriental Museum, be warned that it is rather small in scale. Contrary to popular belief though, size isn't everything and it does compensate with the quality of the rare Hokusai prints on display and some interesting information on how these exquisite Japanese artworks from the 19th Century were actually produced. There's also an amusing selection of 'shobungo' to be savoured, including the legendary print of a young lady in flagrante with a steamed-up cephalopod. Suddenly, your visit looks essential!

As well as the Hokusai exhibition, this museum is one of Durham City's hidden treasures, with a truly fabulous collection of ceramics, furniture and art in its Chinese galleries. And if that's not enough, there's also some splendid Indian artefacts and a room or two of finds from the desert sands of Ancient Egypt, including the splendid funerary mask below. Thanks to Jo for the pic.

Electric Psychedelic Sitar Headswirlers Vols 1-5

After years of collecting 'Nuggets, 'Pebbles', 'Boulders', 'Rubble' and all those other great compilations of obscure 60s psychedelia, the last thing I was expecting to find was a five CD gold-mine of stuff I'd never heard before. So, I was delighted to come across this amazing new box-set in all its electric, psychedelic, sitaric and indeed headswirlic glory. You'll find none of the well-known sitar hits here from the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Donovan etc; instead, you will voyage to a wondrous, incense-reeking underworld of Z-grade sitarsploitation. The sleeve-notes give brief information on the likes of Saffron, The Frederic, Kahli Bahlu et al, but who cares really, as it all seamlessly blends into one glorious droning freak-out (which is hardly surprising, when the modally-tuned sitar only has two melody strings and never changes key). Even when the bands here are known from other contexts e.g. Them, Lemon Pipers and The Strawberry Alarm Clock, the track chosen will be an obscure one, or by some unfamiliar line-up of the group. Some are camp, some are early fusion records and some are recent revisitings of this classic 60s sound. There is even music here (like 'Flowers In The Air' by Golden Dawn member Sally Eaton) that offers something genuinely ecstatic. Best of all, there are another five albums available in the series and more in the pipeline. All the more reason to drone on, tune up and joss out...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Durham Open Mic - 2011 Annual Report

2011 was a vintage year for Durham City's open mic scene, due mainly to the rescheduled mid-week session at the Market Tavern. After a long period with several competing nights, everyone finally knew the one place to go for a pub music thrill. At the Tav, there was proper beer, a decent bunch of musicians and - best of all - a crowd who came to listen. Sadly, all things must pass and it's all over now (for the moment at least) so here's a shot of Fishburn Mafia from the final bash just before Christmas to remember it by. Rumour is that the session may be restarting in the spring, so here's hoping...

UFO Flap Over DC

I spotted this Unidentified Flying Object hovering over the A167 just west of Durham in January. I didn't get abducted, hypnotized, probed, or anything unpleasant like that (which was a relief) so it seemed to be fairly benign. Keep watching the skies!

Lines Of Flight @ The Laing Gallery

Mervyn Peake (1911-68) is best known today for his 'Gormenghast' fantasy novels, but during his own lifetime he was probably much better known for his remarkable skill as an illustrator. To celebrate his 100th anniversary, the Laing Gallery has assembled a spectacular exhibition of artwork from the many different stages of his career.

Book illustration has always been an underrated art that demands the highest levels of technical skill on work that might be glanced over in a moment by the casual reader. Peake was a master of the form and his title page to 'Household Tales' for example still astonishes with its detailed lines and character sketches. There are also some exquisite illustrations here for 'Treasure Island', 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde' and 'Snow White', including a particularly memorable image of Snow White herself that looks remarkably like Kate Bush in all her 'Wuthering Heights' pomp.

Most of the work in the first gallery is in black & white, so it comes as something of a revelation to encounter his spectacular colour plates for 'Rhymes Without Reason' (1949) in the second room. It is however his own 'Gormenghast' books that provide some of the most inspired work here and for me the stand-out piece in the whole exhibition is the pen, ink & wash illustration of his character 'Steerpike': a hauntingly life-like image that would not look out of place in a portrait gallery. Even if you don't like Peake the writer, Peake the illustrator is well worth investigating.

Healey Windows Win ACE Award

We're pleased to report that the Healey Church windows we were championing all last year won the Art & Christian Enquiry 'Award for Art in a Religious Context' for 2011. They beat stiff competition at the national level from the likes of Antony Gormley and Thomas Denny (whose entry was the new 'Transfiguration Window' at Durham Cathedral). Congratulations to all concerned. More info at: