By Toutatis Library Farewell

Daniel Cochran/By Toutatis

They’re not gone for good don’t worry but last week By Toutatis played their final live performance in 2013 and what a triumph it was. Singer and songwriter Daniel Cochran is heading out to the heat of the Middle East to teach English and he selected the wonderful barrel roof of Middlesbrough Reference Library as a venue for his last stand for sometime. A studious writer the library has clearly played a big part in his education as it has for so many in the town. Last Monday we were all examining the acts playing beyond the top table in a night of spellbinding brilliance. Truly one of the top events of this or any other year in these parts.

Dressed Like Wolves were the first act up to enjoy the total respectful silence. It is a library after all! It might have been intimidating but they seem to take every gig in their stride. While the trio might quip and joke their song-craft is second to none and in “Stories” they had a brilliantly apt song to close a library set. There were a few indicators like the subtle “Veneers” that point to the next album being a bit special.

Was it nerves or the sausage, chips and peas she had wolfed down after being held up on the Metro that caused Natasha Haws to initially pause? The young South Shields singer songwriter soon opened up with a sparkling set that showcased her incredible talents. What power, range and emotion she can pack into a voice. Lyrics that take you on a ride maybe somewhere north by north east of “Happiness” and ending on soarway single, “Perfect Stranger.”

The stage was set now for By Toutatis. The crowd perfectly hushed, cups of tea and hot chocolate quickly despatched. All eyes on the suited Daniel Cochran as he shuffled to the front of the rows of seats and cranked up the wheezing chord organ to sing solo through the attention grabbing album starter “String On A Map.” The classical melodrama of “Hero and Leander,” the heart wrenching “Continental Drift” and the titanic traditional “Felons Song” took us headlong into the blazing Baroque history folkdom of By Toutatis.

Drummer Ben Muriel wandered from behind his drums to sing unaccompanied before the instrumentation built with added strings to Robbie Major’s violin and brass for a finale that was absolutely epic. The anthemic “Flags” was triumphal before the virtuoso Ben Hopkinson led the line with his concerto style piano playing for an emphatic and European “The Songs We Sang to Death.” As the last notes rang out between the tomes and periodicals the audience rose one by one to their feet. This was quite simply an outstanding event. A crowning glory from a band that are announcing themselves as one of the most interesting and inspiring ever to come out of this town and hinterland.

By Toutatis: Quite awe inspiring.

Photos – Tracy Hyman

By Toutatis


Switch Off!

Last week in Dundas Arcade two artists, Paul Theo Murray and Becki Harper, took over an empty shop for a week.  The Switch Off campaign was aimed at engaging people in arts activities during lunch times and after work, encouraging people to ‘switch off’ and make the most of their leisure time in a creative way.

Work created during the printmaking workshop.

The campaign consisted of four free drop in lunchtime workshops, two evening workshops and an exhibition.  Each day’s workshop had a different theme; badgemaking, printmaking, papercraft and modelling.  The day I went it was papercraft day.  I was shown how to make a paper windmill and various origami objects, including a piano, a pigeon and a frog.  I met up with a couple of friends and we sat around for most of the afternoon making them, drinking tea and eating cake.

Making origami frogs.

The exhibition consisted a series of posters submitted by local artists.  They had been invited to design an A3 poster inspired by the idea of ‘switching off’ from work, and enjoying leisure time.

Two of these artists (shown below) Becki Harper and Jam Grantham currently have an exhibition at the Dorman Museum called ‘Pencil and Paper’ showing some of their illustrations.

A great project, making use of an empty shop in the centre of Middlesbrough whilst helping us learn how to recharge and make better use of our time.


24 Carat Barr Brothers Gold

It is late on a school night, after two excellent support slots, the main band have been on stage for an hour and a half. All the way from Canada, The Barr Brothers have played their hearts out. Yet the audience still wants more. Demands more, actually. The applause is ringing round the hot house room; no one wants the musical magic to end just yet.

The Barr Brothers by Tracy HymanSeveral aeons ago it all began when the gorgeous General Sherman shuffled on to their home-town Westgarth stage. The delightfully understated craft of their songs weaves its own spell across the Middlesbrough crowd. The male singer seems to infuse all his focus and energy into the crackling whisper of voice and dexterous fingers of guitar so leaving his co-singer to be our guide and anchor between songs. Thus we learn that General Sherman are giving us their take on a chapter from The Last of the Mohicans, the two vocals sparring and the music intensifying as a drama is played out before us.

By Toutatis album, The Songs We Sang to Death, is a real triumph, as I have already related to you in this column. Tonight, the band from Teesside (rather than Teesside band) celebrate by turning the folk down and the amps up. There is wicked distortion in the guitar, the vocals rock and reel like a lurching salt encrusted sea shanty. The violinist snaps a string! Next time I’ll see them they will be playing Middlesbrough Reference Library (Monday 16th September), it is hard to pigeon hole this band. They are certainly on exceptional form in the lead up to their final gig of the year next Monday.

The Barr Brothers clamber onto a stage that leaves little room for musicians between an incredible array of bulky and largely antique looking instruments apart from the glistening new harp. It turns out to be the only hired instrument amongst a pump organ, whirling vibraphone and even a bicycle wheel contraption that is bowed, all brought with them across the Atlantic.

They play as if their lives depend upon it. The percussionist Barr’s face is a mask of concentration as he drives out the rhythms, his brother’s voice purrs or gravels; fingers fly across the frets and somehow avoid tying themselves into knots. The organist head is lost from view almost resting on his keyboard and all the while the harpist plucks on, when she is not playing a guitar that is. And it is boiling hot in the room.

It is intense, wonder-fueled Americana with intimate cabin, camp fire guitar picking interludes. 12 Barr blues brothers (thank you Robbie By Toutatis for that) on a searing version of Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Lord, I Just Can’t Keep From Crying.’ We are privileged to be invited to an epic performance of a Canadian band playing blindingly brilliant music.

Even after 90 minutes in the green house The Barr Brothers have to returned to encore. This is a solid gold Westgarth evening, neither band nor audience will forget it in a hurry.

All photos Tracy Hyman –


The Brasserie Hudson Quay

Everyone is talking about it, from my manicurist to the girls at Military Bootcamp and my 87-year-old great aunty. With my BFF leaving Boro to go study her masters in Edinburgh, I thought I would surprise her with a three-course meal at the Brasserie as a goodbye treat.

Loved that it was easy to book a table online.

We were greeted on the door and led to our seats in the window overlooking the stunning dock. From our seats we could see some of Middlesbrough’s most distinct landmarks, the Dock Clock and Temenos.

The menu was full of delicious options including a full menu for vegetarians.

The headwaiter was fully knowledgeable to help us decide between the million and one options for scrumptious starters, mains and desserts.

Freshly baked bread was brought over while we waited and enjoying an amazing sunset. Chilled tunes mixed with chirping crickets and tweeting birds helped put us in a relaxed mood.

For starters we had Hot Oak Smoked Salmon Rillette, Olive Oil Crouton, Pickled Chicory with Peperanata and Tempura King Prawns, Pepper Pork Belly with Fennel and Kohlrabi Slaw.

They were taste-perfect, presented well and just the right size for a first course. They made us even more excited for our mains to arrive.

After a quick toilet break (keep reading – you need to know about the amazing bathroom!) where the soothing tones of Stephen Fry and his best-selling biographies keeps you entertained.

On to the mains, beyond amazing Poached Gressingham Duck Breast, Parsnip Croquetter, Pear & Saffron Puree and Duck Leg Pie was perfection again and full of taste bud tantalising surprises.

The Whole Baked Camembert with Charred & Marinated Vegetables and Garlic Bread was deliciously gooey on the inside and the handcrafted garlic bread was a flawless dipping partner.

We thought our bellies were stuffed but a glance at the dessert menu made us think otherwise!

After umm’ig and ahh’ing for a good 10 minutes, on which of the delicious deserts we fancied we decided to go all out and order three between the two of us. The chef added in an extra few churros we were yearning for from another choice as well!

From the Dark Chocolate Amaretti Torte through to the Sicilian Lemon Possit and Vanilla Rice Pudding Doughnut we couldn’t believe our eyes when everything landed on our table.

We managed to wolf all our desserts down – taking not so great care of our cream blouses – but what’s a bit of Vanish (Stain Removal) in comparison to being fully food content?

After a relaxing pot of herbal infused tea and a more-than-reasonable bill for all that we had we finished the night by taking a moonlight stroll. We even spotted a couple of seals bobbing up and down in the River Tees.

Overall Brasserie Hudson Quay is the perfect restaurant for a quick lunchtime bite to eat, for celebrating a landmark birthday or if you simply want to devour three desserts then the Brasserie is also the place for you!

Brasserie Hudson Quay collage

Brasserie Hudson Quay

Links:, Brasserie Hudson Quay on Facebook, Brasserie on Twitter: @BrasserieHQ.


Tees Pride In Our 10k

On Sunday I was one of 4000 runners, joggers and walkers proudly taking part in just about the biggest day of the year in these parts, the Sabic Tees Pride 10k. Although I could never describe the actual act of running as enjoyable, endurance would be more applicable, being part of that crowd out on the roads is a wonderful feeling. The relief of seeing that finishing line and the sense of achievement as you cross it is a personal triumph. I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

A couple of years ago I had to make a choice between singing in a club in Berlin and running the Middlesbrough 10k as it was then called. The fact that I agonised before making the decision might show just how much this day means to myself and the thousands of runners and spectators that make this one of the highlights in the annual calendar in Middlesbrough or the whole area.

There was a buzz of excitement and anticipation along the old avenue of trees on Hall Drive, Acklam as runners assembled and clipped their race numbers to their chests. Is it just me that finds it impossible to pin four corners of a paper number to their own chest? Hmm, perhaps it is.

Patrick Monahan collects fro Zoe's Place

There was such a mass of people, first to watch the 3k and then to participate in the warm up which took on a light hearted feel courtesy of comedian Patrick Monahan. Pat had been out collecting for Zoe’s Place around the 3k route and would hug his way around the 10k also. There were so many vests with charity names on them, some national, many local and often very personal messages make for a colourful, moving and also uplifting backdrop.

Then it was out onto the road itself, taking care to start in front of any emu’s, ostrich’s, or guerrillas. And making sure it stays that way. A couple of years ago I was passed by a nun and a pink panther, at the 9km mark, the energy just ebbed right out of my legs. I still haven’t quite shaken off the feeling of shame.

Yesterday the sun was shining down on an event the entire community came out to embrace. There were 4000 people running the 10k, add to that all the children running 3k and the thousands more folk lining the entire route cheering everyone on and it is a massive day now for Middlesbrough.

As well as the people lining the route, bands played at intervals to lift our spirits. The first kilometre flag is passed along Acklam Road, I recall seeing a teenage girl dropping out at this point one year. I think she had rapidly regretted filling her race “water bottle” with coca cola.

Ladgate Lane offers shade beneath the trees but also a really testing hill past the lay-bye where the Slip Inn stood many moons ago. A change of direction at Marton Crossroads is always a boost as was the sight our mam and dad waving at the corner. I didn’t realise the camera clicking was my friend Tracy capturing a moment of suffering?

I wonder how many times I have driven to town along Marton Road over the years I think that is why it is so special to actually run down the middle of this normally so so busy road. By this stage we are counting the kilometre marker flags and trying not to go backwards compared to all the surrounding runners. I try to roughly time how long it has taken to reach each landmark but multi tasking (as demonstrated with the race number) has never been my strong point and I invariably fail to work out my time schedule en route.

A new departure this year was the kids along Keith Road being polite enough to ask first before spraying us with water. Don’t ask just do it, after 7km in that sunshine we needed all the water we could take on board between the feeding stations. Talking of warm, I wonder what temperatures that man running in a suit is now experiencing. Good to see Julie and kids waving us on near the Art College. This year I smiled rather than grimaced. I can’t be trying hard enough.

Its a long run the whole length of Keith Road and Green Lane, with an energy sapping bank at Deepdale to contend with. You think you will never reach Acklam Road but the sound of all the cheering folk either side of the road near Jack Hatfield’s club is a massive pick me up.

Then it is a case of staying power, being driven on by the band at the Coronation and trying to remember how close, not how far, Hall Drive is past Acklam shops. You see at the 8-9k stage it is psychological war fare raging in the runners brain. As you turn into the tree lined Hall Drive, relief turns to something near despair as you realise the finish line isn’t even in sight. I fall for this every year as the road seems to get longer and longer. Then there are the speed bumps to dodge as everyone winds up to a big finish in front of the gallery. Isn’t that Peter, one of the Acklam Parkrunners in front, better try and finish ahead of him. Actually it wasn’t but it gave me the motivation to pick up my pace again, just as I was flagging and lunge towards the line and Alastair Brownlee’s welcoming voice.

Relief! Grab the bottle of water. Catch my breath and swap stories with so many friends old and possibly new ones made on the day. A final word for John Gray, who is one of the faster runners, normally attempting to break the 38 minute barrier but this year injury restricted him to walking round in 1 hour 38 mins. John collected over £100 for Butterwick Hospice. Isn’t that what this community event is all about.

What a day it has been again. Roll on Tees Pride 2014 and hopefully a better time. Fingers crossed.

If you fancy staying fit between Tees Pride annual runs then why not try the 5k parkruns on a Saturday. We are fortunate to have more, well supported parkruns locally than anywhere nationally. Fit town not fat town. Runs start at 9am every Saturday morning at Albert Park, Stewart Park and just over the border at Tees Barrage. Click here for parkrun

Also please come over to Hemlington Lake on a Wednesday teatime. At around 6 to 6.30 Swift-tees meet up for a friendly community session around the lake waters. Some walk, many jog and others exercise with interval training. Followed by a cup of tea afterwards. All invited. Click here for Swift-tees

That’s Tees Pride

Excellent Photos by Tracy Hyman