Carry moonbeams home in a jar by Phil Illingworth

Apocalypso by Phil Illingworth

A bit of art on my way home at Platform A Gallery at Middlesbrough Railway Station. The artist Phil Illingworth was on hand to chat with people about the show. Some of the works are on his website with specifics of materials. His explanations were about his experimentation with paint but I was way more entertained by the works’ similarities to children’s toys and games but with an edge, sometimes a spiky sharpened edges given to what look like pick-up sticks – hanging from the wall at the artist’s eye level or a headdress, on what is reminiscent of a playful Yoshitomo Nara dog shape but then the headdress elements look like matches. The coloured pole on the ground in a field of burnt wooden cubes again emitted notions of playfulness and danger – I loved it.

The show is on until November 3.

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If you’ve never been to the Platform A Gallery – it is open Tuesday to Saturday. Get yourself to Platform 1 of Middlesbrough Railway Station and turn left once through the doors. Keep walking until you find the gallery entrance on your left. Ring the bell and be let into this small oasis of art – that feels like a delicious secret, especially as you may get funny looks for walking that way as many people don’t realize it’s there.

There is a beam in the gallery marked Dorman Long the legendary Teesside company behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The gallery and adjacent Platform Arts Studios were built in the former British Rail Parcel Store and Fish Quay in the Grade II listed Railway Station.

While at the station also keep an eye out for Mackenzie Thorpe artworks on platform 2 and the occasional exhibition in the underpass – known as The Tunnel Gallery.

The Travellers Rest Cafe is also highly recommended.


Ross Noble Brain Dump

Ross Noble Brain Dump Warm Up

Oh how I wish the Billingham Forum programmed more stuff we would want to see. 12 minutes up the road. Ross Noble is a very funny guy and we were lucky to get tickets for the Brain Dump warm up show – night 2. An evening in which I have no idea what the hell 19 by Paul Hardcastle is (I was 9 when it came out) or who Niki Lauda race car driver is. But it doesn’t matter. A super-funny improvisation and yes a chunk of the show is Ross Noble making funny faces and lewd gestures and it is entertaining. Funnier and more entertaining than I expected. The set was neat too.

Also realized I haven’t been to a comedy gig in a while. Booked Lee Nelson at Middlesbrough Theatre the same night for May 2017!

Twisterella Unconference – Advice for musicians 2016

If you are an up and coming musician anywhere near the Teesside area – the free Twisterella Unconference on October 8th is something you should not miss. You can RSVP on Facebook here. The unconference is open to all ages not to be confused with the Twisterella festival later in the day which is 18+.

This year’s panelists announced so far include Vic Galloway – a music and arts radio and TV broadcaster with 18 years of experience for BBC Radio 1, BBC Scotland and 6Music, Claire Dupree – editor and owner of North East-based alternative music and culture monthly NARC. Magazine, and Helen Hammill, of rising band Cattle & Cane, who are about to release their second album.

Twisterella Unconference 2016 guests

If you want practical advice from people working in this industry – go. If you are ready to hear constructive feedback on your work submit a track for the A&R session via the Twisterella festival Contact  page or at the session itself though limited slots are available and it’s first come first serve.

Scheduled sessions are:

Session 1: Getting noticed / Establishing a presence / Kicking on (11.30am—12.00pm)
Session 2: Taking an income from music (12.10pm—12.55pm)
Session 3: A&R (1.15pm—1.45pm)
• Get your track heard by the panel. Are you brave enough?

If you’re not sure, here are my notes from the 2014 session.


We Are Family Festival 2016 - Set times

We Are Family Festival

Year 2 of the We Are Family Festival featured a dream line-up. Held at Jackson’s Landing, Hartlepool Marina prior to the planned demolition.

Made sure to get there just before 5 in time for Lilliput, who are currently crowdfunding their debut album.

Had an amusing exchange with security.

Finally got a chance to see this new iteration of Kingsley Chapman and the Murder. This was followed by Slug, Hyde & Beast, Seafret,  and Cattle & Cane.

Well done to organisers The Jar Family, though I missed most of their set partaking in a savoury crepe for dinner.

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Kevin and Thomas

Torturing Tom at the Tees Transporter and the Town Meal

It was Heritage Open Days so we decided to torture our nephew Tom who is scared of heights by climbing the Tees Transporter Bridge. We actually thought we would go up in the lift but because it was Heritage Open Days the lift was fully booked in advance. The joke was on me because we climbed the stairs both ways. His hands turned blue from gripping the railings so hard!

We also rode the Transporter in from Hartlepool. It was briefly shut to let some tall ships in, which was its original purpose in being built the way it was.

We then made our way to the Middlesbrough Town Meal for free food made from locally grown produce, free books at the Teesside Hospice Stall and Tom’s favourite at the MIND stall – depression cupcakes – grey on the outside but colourful on the inside.

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Seal at Greatham Creek

Seal watchpoint at Greatham Creek Teesmouth

Great morning spotting seals and birds.

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Twisterella Festival – a treat for music fans!

I started my day at the Twisterella Unconference with a bunch of practical advice for musicians. It was still really interesting to listen to even though I am not the target audience.

Music for the day started with the tracks submitted for the A & R session at the unconference. In the background we could hear the soundcheck for Fatherson.

As soon as the unconference ended it was straight into their set after a quick hello to The Tea Bee at the bar. A packed SU enjoyed a great set by them.


Photos of Fatherson by Nick Wesson below.

Fatherson by Nick Wesson

Fatherson by Nick Wesson

Sadly, it meant missing the set by James Kruman – who is well worth checking out.

Ran down to The Keys to listen to Darlo’s Capture, for fans of early The Kooks. Then on to Liberty’s to see Para Alta, a talented young band from Hartlepool (formerly known as Palace). Ran into Brian Barnes who programmed the brilliant PinDrop stage at The Central for Middlesbrough Live this year.

Really hope to see Suntrapp [now releasing music under his own name Jake Houlsby] at some point who were in a competing slot at the acoustic stage at TSone.

It was back to The Keys for Lilliput. Such a joyful set. Grins all around…happy band…beautiful harmonies.

Happy crowd

On to see Lisbon at the SU. Some friends who had seen Lisbon recently at festivals opted forWoodenbox.  First time hearing them and I liked it. The danger with trying to see 16+ bands in one day is getting a little distracted. Heard enough to know I would be happy to see Lisbon again.

Psyence were out due to a chest infection so caught a couple of songs by Mouses who filled in brilliantly.

While some friends were waiting for The Lake Poets at TSOne and I was going to try to see Littlemores I got distracted with the thought: eat now or be hungry for the rest of the night. Lovely Mama Mia pizza from Gi Gi’s on Linthorpe Road hit the spot and I ate it en route to the Westgarth to catch the noise of a Menace Beach set.

Sad to have missed Collectors Club

but managed to catch a couple of songs by Lovepark at the SU and similar to Lisbon, heard enough to know I would be glad to hear more.

Back to the Westgarth for the surprisingly tiny Law who reminds me of Massive Attack goodness.Happyness kept referring to Sweet Bamboo (instead of Sweet Baboo who was on at TS One) which made me giggle. Stopped for a chat with some friends and got a bit lazy so I will have to find another time to catch The Hosts, Weird Shapes and Hey Rocco.

Pals went to see Brontide at The Keys. Though I loved Stanley Odd at Sumday but decided to try a new band Dancing Years. Sublime! Every piece of the music fit so well together in perfect balance. Singer could barely contain his passion on certain songs and the violin fit around it. Wow. The production value on their ep is also really high too. Thrilled I got the one CD they had with them. They did have to deal with a heckler who just wanted them to have their album out already 🙂

Another lazy moment and didn’t catch Eliza and the Bear, another time.

Cattle & Cane played to an appreciative and packed hometown crowd at the SU [cannot wait until thealbum launch in September]

Cattle and Cane


Love Cattle & Cane but I was headed to Libertys where Jake Isaac played a  magical set. Get to itunes immediately for beautiful music to put you in a peaceful mood. Official photo below by Lauren Close.

Jake Isaac by Lauren Close

Ignore the quality of the video – this gave the audience chills – Jake Isaac came down into the crowd and serenaded us in the most beautiful way.

After his set made my way to the Westgarth for the last song and a half by Prides including a cover of Roar – see playlist below!

A fantastic day – Thank you to promoters The Kids Are Solid Gold and Pay for the Piano for their awesome work in creating this festival and in bringing us brilliant gigs all year round – cheers fellas – bring on 2015!

Twisterella Festival

Twisterella Festival on Facebook

Twisterella Festival on Twitter

Twisterella Times 2014

[Post recovered via the awesome Internet Archive Wayback Machine, edited to update a band link]

Twisterella Unconference – Advice for musicians

As part of the brand new Twisterella Festival there was a series of sessions for musicians/bands who want to move their careers on to the next level. This was a free and all ages event held on Saturday, October 11 2014 at the Teesside University Students Union in Middlesbrough, UK.

The panelists were:

What stood out was that they were all music fans and the sessions were packed with great advice.

Below find my notes for if you couldn’t attend. Credit for who said what exists only where I have notes and/or remember. I came in mid-way through Session 1. Separate post to follow on the greatness of the festival that followed.

Twisterella Unconference 2014

Session 1 – Getting started

Official description of session: You’ve got some songs. You might’ve even played some gigs. But what next? Getting local press coverage, establishing a presence, etiquette, basic expectations & other essential information.

Panel: Ally McCrae, Bob Fischer, Michael Lambert, Chris Cobain

What you should be looking to do now; Nice people don’t finish last

Ally: It is easier to be a premiership footballer than breaking a band. Think of creative ideas, different ways of approaching promotion, something to stand out. An example from a band he worked with…they offered to do free house parties for fans. This was something they could do, then tell people about.

Michael: Promoters (and venues) are not a charity. It’s good to have a story, stuff going on…for example that you had some busy house parties.

Panel: Be careful not to bullshit people. When you talk to people, it should be about what you’ve done notwhat you’re going to do, e.g. “set to be massive in 2015″

Putting bums on seats is important but be honest if you can’t.

If the promoter likes you they will try and help. If they have a sold out gig they may give a chance to a band that could otherwise only bring in 5 people.

If you are not honest you may be put on a bill, where each band brings in 5 people and you’re playing to 10 total.

Promoters can keep you in mind so contact them if you have new music coming out.

Cheek is okay but hello is also good [in terms of how you deal with promoters/venues]. It is a partnership. It is not not you vs the promoter. Promoters look for local bands to build relationships with.

Look at Sofar Sounds nights where lineups are not announced and it’s about discovering new music. Playing for fresh ears can build up your mailing list.

Chris and panel: Don’t lie to promoters. They talk to each other.

Do a single launch.

Hire a room.

Talk to the local media – locally – the Gazette, Narc, Radio.

The Chapman Family started out by putting on their own gigs.

You don’t have to play live all the time. You can also spend time on Facebook/Youtube/Twitter.

Use your own social media/voice to promote what you are doing. You have to do your side of promotion and equally you’d be pissed off with a promoter if they did nothing to promote your gig.

Q: Is social media crucial?

Panel: It is another tool. Use what you’re good at. Followings on social media can influence a Radio 1 playlist slot. [Recent article on this]

Making yourself easy to publicise – press releases, press kits, photos

Q: On press releases and band blurbs/bios – what do you look for? What do you hate?

Ally: Love seeing information about a band on [someone else’s] blog(s). Also, a record deal doesn’t matter if you don’t have fans. Look at things like Hype Machine charts.

For one band he once took a day to send 120 bespoke emails to bloggers who love or have written about similar bands. He took the time to read their blogs and compliment previous writing. The band went on to be top 5 on hype machine’s international chart.

Bob: Life stories are not necessary, e.g. “picked up a guitar at age 4.” One paragraph only please. For BBC Introducing he gets about 100 tracks per week from 40-50 bands. Talk about what you’re doing now.

Michael: Two paragraphs are okay. Write one paragraph that can be used easily, copied and pasted, for listings and websites.

Ally: Get friends who are journalists to ask you questions and see what stands out.

Michael: A concise two paragraphs for promoters is useful. But also recently they sent the two paragraphs out for Stanley Odd along with a two page long interview as the biography. This worked well for bloggers and journalists who made use of the quotes in the interview within posts/articles.

Bob: Press releases that can be readily used as articles are useful; sometimes they are published as is.

Bob: Quotes from other blogs are good, but they should be credible sources. Unknown blogs are not necessarily helpful as pros will assume that other people haven’t written about you.

Ally: Not everyone will get on Pitchfork instantly.

Bob: I play purely stuff I like. BBC is not a commercial radio station so it is ok if you haven’t been written about. I’m happy to be the first to play it.

Panel: You need good quality images. Sometimes managers/promoters/bands send a postage stamp size image of the band that can’t be used for anything [e.g. posters, flyers, press]. Good images may get featured.  If not given an image, media will use an image [of someone else] they do have. Make images available on your website.

Bob: Try and be creative with your photos, and create some intrigue/interest that way.

He’s seen loads of photos of four guys in t-shirts and jeans near a wall or near some trees in a park.

Ally: A festival he worked at had a wall of shame for bad photos

Panel: Show why you’re not like anyone else. Potentially set up a live shot, it can be used for a gig review. They don’t necessarily use a photo from the night they go to.

Make it available – A short bio, 2 promo shots, 2 live shots. Have a dropbox [or other service] link available for promotion of any gig you do.

Michael: Once got a request for a hi-res photo while on a train from NME. He was able to reply with a link straight away, where trying to upload a photo with a poor connection wouldn’t have worked and the opportunity would have been lost.

Panel: Journalists never ask for these things with time in advance. It is always last minute – I have ten minutes…

If you’re a local Teesside band, Saltburn photographer Nick Wesson made an offer for free photos on Twitter.

Deals for gigs, gigging advice and whether you should work for free

Q: What kind of deal will promoters offer?

Michael: On a national tour the decision may not be up to the promoter. They may get £50 for 2 local support acts. You could do events like a Single Launch in a venue – on a £5 entry fee you could get half, or if you hire the venue you would get all of it. Sometimes you could be offered a guaranteed flat sum – plus a percentage – e.g. £30 guaranteed + 50% over the first £30 plus some beers/drinks.

Q: Do you have to play free sometimes?

Panel: There has to be something in it for you. It may be to get you in with a promoter or that the performance is being filmed. You have expenses so definitely not all the time. You need to get there, your equipment, food, drink, etc.

Ask yourself why you are doing anything.

Michael: Example for Stanley Odd on a recent tour – it cost £300 for a big van, sound guy to do a gig paying £150. Is it worth it? Sometimes it is.

Q: Is there a danger of local overexposure?

Panel: Yes. Venues need local acts who can help sell out a venue. Put your efforts into making one show busy. Maybe do 4 gigs in a year in your backyard.

Q: Would you shy away from a band with another nearby gig within the month?

Panel: Definitely, though they appreciate it can be difficult when you’re only getting £20-£30 per gig.

Q: How would you feel about a band with another gig in a nearby town the night before [Tees Valley / Teesside context]?

Panel: If it was a free pub show, definite no go. If it’s a midnight club appearance that is maybe okay.

It comes back to building a relationship with a promoter, they will be more willing to give you leeway to pursue other opportunities e.g. night before support slot for a big tour.

Session 2: Kicking on

Official description of session: Establishing a regional presence – some dos and don’ts. Securing regional dates and beyond. Securing national airplay. Getting your music distributed online via digital platforms. We’ve got it covered.

Panel: Tom Cotton, Ally McCrae, Bob Fischer, Vic Galloway, Michael Lambert, Chris Cobain

How to book gigs outside your region and making the most of gigging

Q: [Bob asks the crowd] How do you book gigs outside of Teesside?

Audience: Consensus – Gig swaps are a good thing, maintaining contacts with bands who have played on your own turf.

Panel: There’s a “moral blackmail” you can inflict – when they are on your turf, make it busy, feed them and they will want to do the same for you.

Ask contacts where you should go and who you should speak to. Rinse each opportunity for all it’s worth, talking to local radio stations, BBC Introducing, regional press and blogs.

Watch other bands. Introduce yourself. Stay and watch headliners. It is awful when bands eff off to a pub and leave the bands after them to a poor crowd.

Make friends and be nice to people. Talk to the venue manager, sound guy.

Promoters also know other promoters so talk to contacts you do have when you are looking to expand your reach.

What to do if you have no contacts, what should you never do to get gigs

Q: What should a band do if they have no contacts, what’s the approach?

Panel: Research locations. Realize there is a fine line between being proactive and being a pain in the ass. There’s a difference between being pushy and being just pushy enough. Send your material with a covering letter. Panelists like an old school approach with a personal handwritten note. The Internet/Google is your friend.

Using a mailing list – e.g. “Dear sir” – is a no go.

Vic: Chatting with someone and pretending you’re a big fan isn’t great either when  by the end of the conversation they realize you’ve mistaken them with someone else or don’t actually listen to/read their work.

Panel: Getting a note with “We’d love to play [insert venue here] is terrible.

But do let promoters/venues know when you have an EP coming out or that you’re booked somewhere else.

Don’t accept every gig

Pick and choose your opportunities. You don’t have to play everywhere. Assess the offer – is it worth doing.

Don’t feel like there is a city you must perform in – you could book a London gig and it could be terrible.

It is demoralizing to play a bunch of empty gigs. You don’t want to spend loads on traveling to a gig for 4 people.

Take advice and rely on local knowledge e.g. a band telling you Monday night in a particular town/venue is not very good.

Once a band set up 18 dates to play Ferret and Firkin pubs. Firkin pubs are not known for music gigs. There was no one at the gigs. It broke the band and they broke up.

Someone recalled a gig in London where there was a crowd outside the door and a person with a clipboard in the doorway not allowing people in unless they paid £10 so bands played to an empty room.

Have a plan and a reason to play somewhere.

Bob: Research if promoters are reputable. Musicians are spoiled on Teesside because people generally get paid with beer and cash. Though he recalls other locations having pay to play gigs or bands needing to buy 100 tickets for their own gig.

Honesty is the best policy [with promoters, venues and yourself]

Be honest about who and where you are – e.g. unsigned gigging.

Remember that bigger bands than you have trouble getting gigs. Be realistic about who you are and where you are in the scheme of things and try not to be disheartened.

Venues/promoters need to be careful about lineups…a rising band in a middle slot vs. a band with a declining following as the headliner.

Booking a local show and not making use of local media is a waste of time. Find local bloggers. There are more ways than ever to promote yourself these days.

The music industry is full of careerist, asshole, knobhead professionals. Find the nerdy music fans. Local promoters may give you a chance.

Getting airplay – and minimum quality requirements

Q: Advice on getting airplay

Tom: Gets 600 tracks through Amazing Radio – generally knows if something is terrible in the first 10 seconds…gets some “artists” sending their 10 newest tracks this week.

Listens blind to about 100 songs a week. The music comes first, over the press pack.

This gets condensed to an 8 song playlist.

Panel: Consider the timing of when you send your track to a major show. Do you have a new ep, tour, etc. You’re more likely to get airplay when you’re touring.

Bob: Consider the quality of the music you’re sending. He sometimes gets low quality mp3s that sound “tinny/thin as f*ck and he can’t play them.

Vic: 192kbps or above, preferably 320kbps or WAV. Though deliberate lo-fi music is also great.

Panel: Use your local BBC Introducing. About seven Teesside bands have played major festivals in recent years through this route. Sound original. Be great. Not looking for Biffy Clyro 2.0. Send in a  couple of tracks.

Once you start getting some airplay, there is no need to be arse-y in a live session. It feels like some bands have watched too many Oasis videos.

Be creative in the making of your music but be strategic and have dates in mind for promotion.

Have a big picture or…go DIY and just go out and play gigs.

Session 3: A&R

Official description of session:

  • Get your track heard by the panel. Are you brave enough?!
  • The panel will give feedback on submitted tracks. They will consider aspects such as:
  • Is the quality of the recording good enough to gain airplay? Is there anything that might prevent this particular track getting airplay? Could parts of a track be used for syncing, etc?
  • This part of the Unconference is not about whether a track is good or bad, but it is designed to give the acts feedback from industry professionals on how they might look to develop things as they move forward.

Important note: This is not some sort of “rate them and slate them” X-Factor style audition. The aim of this A & R session is to provide constructive feedback, advice and support to help you move forward.

Panel: Tom Cotton, Ally McCrae, Bob Fischer, Vic Galloway, Michael Lambert

Vic started the session indicating they would be polite but honest in order to be useful. Songs were listened to about 2/3 of the way through to allow for as many songs as possible to be played.

There is a wealth of diverse musical talent on Teesside and some bands from further afield, who were playing Twisterella Festival later in the day, took part too. Below find the bands, brave enough to get feedback live and in person in front of an audience.

Richer Sounds Middlesbrough helped out with some last minute tech support so the songs could be played. They also handed out £5 vouchers and let everyone know about Richer Unsigned.

After the track list I will try to summarize the advice given as a whole so it is useful for musicians in general.

Tracks submitted [where available]

Track one – The Broken BroadcastSea Coal Collectors

Track two – Sirens in the DeltaDirty Words

Track three – Josh Newell BrownShine

Track four – LittlemoresDeborah

Track five – Dressed Like Wolves – Walking

Track six – The TapestryInfatuation

Track seven – Violet Deep – ??

Advice for musicians [on the music]

Consider your intro…what will make someone want to listen past the first 10 seconds? A long intro done well can create anticipation, not done well can make someone skip to the next track. Don’t be afraid of the intro but it is important. For some artists – voice needs to come in sooner as it is the unique character of what they are doing.

Don’t feel the need to hide your vocals in production, or to put on a voice that isn’t authentically you.

Consider what you leave out – sometimes sparser is better.

Vulnerability can be good e.g. hearing your breathing.

A local accent is a good thing. An adopted American accent is not a bad thing if it is not overdone. Some bands will be easily placed within their geography/hometown others will not be viewed as being from a specific place.

Transcend your influences. Create a sense of originality within a genre.

Don’t worry about the current zeitgeist. There will always be a market for …choose great music genre here…

Create dynamics in a song with a single instrument or with your voice. It doesn’t have to be at the same levels all the time. Instruments also, do not have to be at the same levels as each other.

A good producer, and remastering can make a huge difference to a song.

What do you think?

Were you at the Twisterella Unconference? Did I miss anything out? What question do you wish you could ask the panel? Do you have any other advice for up and coming bands?

[Post recovered via the awesome Internet Archive Wayback Machine, edited to include additional song embeds not available at the time]

Stargazing at RSPB Saltholme

RSPB Saltholme puts on great activities for families. Just as BBC Stargazing Live returned to our screens they held two live stargazing events on the reserve. Both events were fully booked well in advance so it is worth pre-booking early.

Volunteers from the Cleveland and Darlington Astronomical Society helped out for the evening. They generally meet monthly at the Wynyard Planetarium.

There were 3 activities to keep everyone busy. We took our two nephews and were lucky to have a clear night.

We were at capacity and split into two groups.

Our group went outside first. The volunteers had telescopes set up.  There was a small one pointed at the moon’s craters – well within reach of little ones. There were also step-ladders to reach the eyepieces on larger telescopes.

We could see Jupiter and its rings with four moons, a yellow star near a blue star, and given a historical eye test. The telescopes needed to be readjusted all the time as the stars moved due to the Earth’s constant rotation.

A great tip from the volunteers was that an amateur would do well with a pair of binoculars rather than a telescope as it would have a wider field of vision that wouldn’t have to constantly be readjusted.

It was a bit chilly so we went inside to have a warming cup of delicious vegetable soup and a bun and take part in activity 2 to make planispheres.

It was then time to swap with the other group and go upstairs for activity 3. A star dome, a portable planetarium was set up from Teesside University. You have to crawl into it, it looks like an inflated igloo. There is a moment when the tunnel is pitch black. I was concerned my younger nephew would panic and freak out (flashbacks of his former 5-year-old self at The Forbidden Corner shrieking and crying). Happily he pushed past his initial fear :o) One of the volunteers then showed us different constellations inside the dome, telling stories with drawings overlaid on the stars.

As we left they handed  out the BBC Stargazing calendar for 2014 – available online as a pdf.

A great early evening activity with the boys at “the bird place” who are now looking forward to the Big Garden Birdwatch

More star resources linked to from the BBC website:

60 Second Adventures in Astronomy

Star Party Pack

Stargazing Event Pack