John Wheeler –“People of Teesside”

John Wheeler’s exhibition of line drawings capture the the character and spirit of the people of Teesside. Open until 7th December at the Heritage Gallery, Cargo Fleet.

I just thought I would tell you about a lovely little exhibition at the Heritage Gallery, Cargo Fleet.

John Wheeler is a skilled technician with the pencil or using the paint brush to provide very quick line drawings that reveal impressions of people he sees in passing.

Drawn or painted onto cheap newsprint the idea is that like the people depicted they will eventually fade away. The portraits are tacked up on the wall of gallery with bulldog clips. A series of quick impressions of expressions. We are left to make up our own minds who or what these “Teesside People” are or are up to?

Some in pencil, some blue and some black lines with the absolute economy of drawn effort. Noses are painted like a wigwam. Eyes a semi circle. Is that a glimmer of a smile? Is the guy in the hat musing thoughtfully? A couple, the girl in the foreground’s eyes straining to look behind her perhaps seeming to say “what is he up to behind me?”

There is an interesting series of quick studies from behind a seated man, his shoulders hunched, is he reading a paper? Maybe he is feeding the pigeons? Or perhaps just staring off into mid distance?

John Wheeler’s exhibition is showing until 7th December at the Heritage Gallery at the magnificently restored Cargo Fleet Office, once the headquarters of Langbaurgh Council and before that of British Steel, Teesside and Dorman Long the great iron and steel company that shaped so much of Teesside. Walk past the elegant hallway with its ship models and wood pannelled central reception desk. Inside the gallery waft the aromas of the café, under new management. I challenge you to leave without sampling the refreshents.

The exhibition shares the heritage gallery with harpoons that once worked the Arctic from ships built at Cargo Fleet. Henry Bolckow’s drawing desk is also there, loaned from a very Teesside name, Heagney. Do their stores still exist or are they now in the hands of a Tesco Express or some other conglomerate?

This building and gallery is all about heritage as the name projects and for artist John Wheeler: “The heritage of a particular area is not only depicted by its building and industry (past and present), but by its people. For it is the people of Teesside who have made Teesside what it is today. These everyday, ordinary people are what I am drawn to, and who I try to depict in these simple images.”

I would urge you to look closer at Teesside and Teesside folk through the drawings of John Wheeler.


Frankie and the Heartstrings – Mixtape The Keys, Middlesbrough

Pop Sex superstars Frankie and the Heartstrings arrived from that City by the Sea with the unmentionable name to rock Teesside out of its November stupor. The bright lights of The Keys is the Middlesbrough setting for the marvellous midweek musical blast that is Mixtape. This week’s offering brought together the fantastic Frankie with local indie pop stars in the making, Randy and the Handstand Band. “Are you Randy?” was the cry from someone down the front as the band took to the flashing squares of the disco dancefloor. “We are Randy” was the exultant reply as the band strutted “So look at us now.”

There was some shock and consternation as the singer announced this would be their penultimate performance. A great shame when they have come on leaps and bounds to now more than hold their own as support to Palma Violets and Frankie and the Heartstrings. Come back soon lads in whatever form you look almost ready to ripen into something special. “Have a good night and that.” Was the modest goodbye to the penultimate showing.

Frankie and the Heartstrings arrived on stage to Block Buster by Sweet an aptly glam intro for the man with the flowing locks and paisley shirt. But just as appropriate for the disco floor that lights up in a fashion not unlike the late Bob Holness Blockbusters tv game. Maybe that is why the singer pronounced this to be the “best stage we’ve ever played on.”

This is melodic indie pop that invites complementary comparisons to the likes of Orange Juice and indeed they have the songs and star quality to make a similar chart impression. “I Still Follow You,” sang Frankie Francis and the front row mouthed every word in tandem of the song now available as a free download from the band. Someone from the band shouted out, “We’re going for a parmo.” Or maybe that should be pizza as Frankie belted out “Oh Oh Oh Ohh Oh” the start to “Hunger” which features on a pizza advert.

The bass player was wearing a Cribs t-shirt a giveaway for the fact that the Heartstrings are just back from a national tour support. They are moving in high circles these days and vocalist Frankie Francis ends up standing on the monitor, singing with passion and pride in a dramatic finale. The band from Sunderland, see I said it at last, are tugging at everyone’s heartstrings. 

Robert Nichols


Photos – Tracy Hyman

 (text originally published in Evening Gazette 16/11/12)

Randys last handstand - almost


Frankie by Tracy Hyman

Fugitives in Waiting

The Fugitives at The Waiting Room, Eaglescliffe

They come from Vancouver, Canada but The Waiting Room was like a home from home for the fantastic Fugitives last Sunday. A warm and friendly band of travelling folk musicians, poets, spoken word, comedians… I could continue and will later…  they suited the intimate vegetarian restaurant about as snugly as a winter’s glove. Oh and if you are thinking twee then let me add they had a devilish sense of humour.

The Fugitives act is as much about the between song chat and banter as it is the beautifully crafted and delivered songs which I am actually struggling to classify as merely folk. The music and vocals weren’t amplified or mic’d up in any way but amongst the set there are songs from Canada, Old Time music from Appalachian and also some incredible paced rapped words, which might be described as slam folk or folk hop?
The lack of amplification makes them perfect for playing a House Concert as they were a couple of nights ago in York. This was our own House Concert in a restaurant. Talking of which the veggie sausages smelled gorgeous. In the end I was powerless to resist.

The Fugitives gave us an exploration of the Canadian psyche or was it just a bunch of really mad stories as the band members described their various mishaps with goldfish, guinea pigs and Dartford Crossing Toll Bars. Most memorably perhaps there was a cautionary tale about body slamming a lobster attempting to escape the pot. One for the vegetarian diners. Maybe, not.

All the band are ridiculously talented in their own right. A superb fiddle rendition of Old Time tune  ‘Mountain of Trouble’ was one of many outstanding solo efforts. I was also particularly struck by Adrian’s song about how the frequency of “Hallelujah” covers is taking the tarnish off this great song, so much so that composer Leonard
Cohen has voiced his concerns. So, X Factor crowd be warned.

When The Fugitives combine they produce some delicious harmonies and delightful music. The guitar, balalaika, accordion and fiddle make a rich sound. The lyrics might be uplifting, soul searching or hilarious. This was a fun and entertaining night at the end of which encores were demanded by the audience. It was only right, fit and
proper that we all ended up with a singalong together. I believe it was  ‘All This Trouble’ and the entire room joined in on the ‘Let It Come,’ chorus.

So, please do let The Fugitives come back this way again soon.


Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny/Head of Light Entertainment – The Studio, Hartlepool

Beth Jeans Houghton
By Tracy Hyman

Beth Jeans Houghton at The Studio, Hartlepool was an epic gig but with so much happening recently I’ve had to put the review on hold for a while. Which is a bit like the gig itself delayed several weeks because of illness to Beth. I hope the review was worth the wait because I know that the gig certainly was.

The Studio, Hartlepool has been the setting for some great, great nights over the years. There was a vintage evening from Half Man Half Biscuit, it was a whole new ball game with the loop-meister, New Yorker Joseph Arthur and then there was a Wilko Johnson show that was so packed out I couldn’t even get in. This was my first time at the relaunched venue, now more wedded to the community and in partnership with Hartlepool College of Further Education. The revamped Studio is alive again and looks far more the part than ever before.

Head of Light Entertainment is a quartet that is starting to attract serious attention. Expert deliverers of quirky but always thoughtful, never clichéd pop. Evergreen Carl Green is the musical conductor, making a cartoon like funny walk between singing lines about his niece or feeling liberated. Now augmented by former Mercedes drummer Graeme H.O.L.E have a little more snap and bite. The songs were drawn from their two albums with some really promising new numbers thrown in. You should check out the quality of their last release, The English Don’t Care.


I’ve actually seen Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny three times since they started touring their debut album, Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose. For me they get better and better. Back in her native north east Beth is clearly delighted to be amongst her own people, she waves to her mum, beaming from the audience. But with this vehicle The Hooves of Destiny, Beth Jeans Houghton is making friends everywhere. I find it as hard to pigeon hole the music as I do the costumes. And wouldn’t really want to. The band are all wearing fancy dress and strange face paint markings. It’s all part of the mystery as they demonstrate a freedom to move well beyond Beth’s freak-folk art roots and have sashayed into indie, even lullaby and nursery crime. All forms of tuneful sound. At the heart of it is that high soaring tremulous voice that leaves Kate Bush behind as it rockets through the stratosphere. And that could well be her destiny.

Robert Nichols



Joshua James – Solid Gold from USA

Just when I thought I had witnessed the gig of the year, Joshua James swung into town and blew everyone away. What a songwriter, what a performer and what a band. All the way from the Heartlands of USA and he chooses to start his UK and Ireland tour for The Kids of Solid Gold at the Georgian Theatre. And wow what a way to start.

It was a night kicked off in some style by two local talents. I had seen Pip Mountjoy’s name on gig posters before but to my shame never actually heard her play. The Richmond teenage singer/songwriter is outstanding. Her lyrics are striking and her playing engaging. Pip’s sunny personality really shines through. Oh and she even performed a song penned just that day, it was so outstanding I hope she repeats the exercise every gig.

Joe Hammill had given the rest of Cattle and Cane the night off. Well not quite all, as sister Helen accompanied him on a couple of songs. He is a sublime singer and his guitar playing is not too shabby either. Great to hear some of those Cattle and Cane epics stripped down to the core but equally enlightening to hear some of the work that Joe consigns to his solo portfolio.

Joshua James and band started with a rich vocal harmony and then drove home the spirit of the song with a glittering guitar. The crowd whooped in delight and for the next hour or more were held as if totally spell bound by the little man’s big big sound of country, folk and rock melded into a solid gold melting pot. His lyrics are poetry that bite hard into people, places and paint pictures not always pretty. The songs are immediate and stirring. The emotions are raw.

They could have played all night and such was the reception that they almost did as the crowd roared them back for encore after encore. What a start to a tour Joshua and band were grinning ear to ear long before the end, loving the Teesside hospitality. A special performer and a special evening.

Photo – Tracy Hyman