Get Down With General Sherman

Get Down With General Sherman was the request from the Middlesbrough band launching a debut album last weekend. The night before the official launch of Cattle and Cane’s Infant Hercules, General Sherman were heading a bill this side of the Tees. The Westgarth Social Club was abuzz with anticipation as the band that have grown up in the music venue came of age promoting their first long player release from the main stage.

The show was kick started by a stylish singer-songwriter in James Kruman. It is not just his tartan trousers that are striking, James is a story teller and combines the word play with a catchy melody. There is more than a hint of Donovan about him. James certainly knows how to write a song title as well, “Lynch a Millionaire” and “The Aviator” are both intriguingly named songs; titles to immediately draw you in.

I am not sure how well Village Green would go down at a village fete. Their three thunderous guitars would probably upset all the coconuts as well as the apple cart. There was nothing pastoral about their double barrel ode to the English Countryside. The lads play upbeat stuff but know how to pull a few surprise rhythms out of the rocking fire. In “Carnaby Street” Village Green performed a former single with an irresistible riff to win them plenty of points for style.

It is looking like a great summer for releases by local acts. Dressed Like Wolves have a new album on the way, also recorded by the General Sherman producer, Matt Brown. He was seated crossed legged on the stage twanging a 2 stringed banjo alongside his lupine co-hort, Rick Dobbing. Dressed Like Wolves have an endearingly shambling approach that in no way masks the quality of their music or arrangements. Rick’s scratchy guitar and almost equally scratchy vocals combine with Matt’s wheezy keyboard and growling guitar on some outstanding songs.

So to the main act and General Sherman began in gentle fashion, with lilting strings of electric uke and violin. They then gradually inducted us into their world of musical magic, of half whispered vocals, of soothing violins, and of compelling rhythms. It is a twilight existence somewhere in the flickering half light between folk, alternative pop and classical. The band have described the album as a descent into chaos and a dark place. Live they certainly built an intensity. They beckoned Liam Saunders to the stage to guest on a raw and roaring guitar.  Later on through the set, Tracy Hyman put down her camera to duet on violin with General Sherman’s Liz Jayasuriya. We certainly felt the sparks flying from an emotional fire during General Sherman’s tilt at Last of the Mohicans, before the violins led us out into a melancholy ‘after the fire’ calm. It was a real powder keg of a song.

I do urge you to track down this exceptional album and then you too can Get Down With General Sherman.

Photos – Tracy Hyman



DJ Tees Crossing The Tees

DJ Tees author John Nicholson is coming to Teesside. Having just released the fourth in a series of Teesside crime novels, Boro fan John will be guesting at Crossing the Tees, Middlesbrough and Stockton Book Festival on Monday.

A Boro fan who launched a successful t-shirt empire as DJ Tees, John Nicholson has also written a highly successful football column for for absolutely years and years. Since 2000 to be precise. Recently John has shifted focus slightly using Teesside and The Boro as a backdrop to a series of gritty crime novels.

John will be taking part in Crossing The Tees – the Middlesbrough and Stockton Libraries – Book Festival on Monday night at Acklam Library with popular author Sheila Quigley in An Evening of North East Crime – £5. Booking is essential because well over 30 seats had already gone in this intimate venue at the time of writing (Saturday) So ring (01642) 817810

John has written a few words that hopefully sum up what he is all about.

Truth is always far, far stranger than fiction. Life shows us that every day. Some people seem like they’ve actually been made up. If you’d put Boris Johnson in a novel people would think it was a ludicrous, unrealistic creation.
It always seemed to me that Boro’s UEFA cup run on 2005-2006 was like a work of fiction. Needing to score four goals to win, twice in two ties, battling back against overwhelming odds, it was so dramatic it belonged more to soap opera. That’s why I used it as the basis for my first novel ‘Teesside Steal’ which plays out against the background of that epic UEFA cup campaign. I even transcribed Paul Addison’s legendary radio commentary for the win against Steaua Bucharest to play out the denouement against. As fists and baseball bats crunch into faces, Addo is screaming ‘they say lightening never strikes twice, but by god it has here tonight.’ Even writing it again still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

And that’s how as a football writer and a Boro fan who was brought up on Teesside in the 1970s, I got into writing novels. Teesside Steal proved really popular, even with non-Boro, non-football fans. This month the fourth in the series, ‘DJ Tees’ was published. I live in Edinburgh these days. Many writers find their clearest voice about their home towns when not living there. Much of DH Lawrences best work about Nottingham was done while living overseas, James Joyce similarly about Dublin. While obviously not in their class, I’ve found that there’s something special about writing about a place you know so well but from a distance. I think it helps you to see the good and the bad a little more clearly, perhaps.

I wanted to write a series of novels set in and around Teesside because it is, in so many ways, such a forgotten and under-appreciated part of the country. I often say Teesside is a mythic place, it has no geopolitical definitions. You can’t find it on any map. It exists only in the hearts and minds of those people who live there or who were born or grew up there. That makes it very special. It’s unique blend of hard industry and wild nature is the grit that makes its special pearl. It’s always interested me how the place we’re born in, grew up in or live in, influences who we are.

I’m not overly romantic about the place and I know it has its well-established problems – it is far from unique in that – but the one thing Teesside has always done is it breeds people of grit, soul and character. And what more could you want to write about than people with grit, soul and character all set in a land of great contrasts?

Outsiders see only the industrial decline and hardship. Indeed, it seems they only want to know about the industrial decline and hardship. But the region has always been about more than its industry. From every viewpoint industry and nature stand together on Teesside. Nature is never far from industry, industry never far from nature.

And what’s so bad about industry anyway? Stand on South Gare on a windy damp Tuesday in February, with the sun going down and look out at the lights and architecture of the industry plant and I’ll be damned if it isn’t some sort of beautiful. Teessiders feel a connection to industry; to its power and strength, not just to its economic benefits. It is emblematic of our character, of our roots and our guts. The chemical and steel plants that appear to be an eyesore to some, to us, have an innate nobility.

God knows Teesside isn’t twee – its not the bloody Cotswolds – but there isn’t just one aesthetic to beauty. Teesside is epic. It is quite literally impressive. It deserves celebrating. I hope, in my novels, I do it the justice it has long deserved. And if I haven’t yet, I’ll keep damn well writing books about the place until I do. You should expect nothing less than hard-face, resolute persistence because, after all, I’m a Teessider.

John and Sheila Quigley will be discussing their north east crime novels at Acklam Library (Acklam Road, Middlesbrough TS5 7AB) this Monday evening, 16th June 7-9pm. Booking essential ring (01642) 817810 – £5


Pally Wears His Boro Stripes

The World Cup starts today and one Teessider that has experienced all the drama as a player is former Middlesbrough and Manchester United centre back, Gary Pallister. The former England man joined Boro fans as the Boro new strips were unveiled at the MFC Retail shop. The diagonal white band is certainly eye-catching on the home shirt but the black hoops on blue away shirts also seemed to be attracting much attention.

Could this exciting new adidas strip be worn by a team knocking on the door for promotion next season? Gary Pallister certainly thinks there could be good things around the corner for Karanka’s Boro.

I chatted with Gary after he posed with members of a Middlesbrough Ladies side that also finished with a flouirsh, playing a cup final and now also looking forward to progressing next term.

Gary PallisterQ: Gary, what do you think of the new kit?

GP: I think it is nice, it is nice that it has got the white stripe. I’m not sure about the direction it is going in being a bit of a traditionalist. I think it is cool.

Q: It is always a sign of moving on to a new season isn’t it, the new kit being unveiled?

GP: Yes, it is part of the excitement as you say when you get the new strip, as you say, everybody gets excited about that and then shortly afterwards the new fixtures come out and it really the whets the appetite for the new season ahead.

I think everybody is pretty excited about the direction the club is going in now. I think Karanka did a good job and at the end of the season we showed signs that we could compete in the higher echelons of the league again. So, touch wood, with a couple of signings we could go on and do that.

Gary PallisterQ: We did finish strongly. Do you believe it is a case of bringing a couple of people in rather than wholesale changes then? Building on that end of season form.

GP: I think you always like to bring a couple of players in, it gives a boost to the dressing room, it energises the dressing room. We certainly felt like that when I was here at Middlesbrough or at Manchester United. No matter whether you had been successful or not, you always like a bit of new blood coming in. It just picks everything up a bit and changes everything again. It will be nice to see a couple of players coming in and I’m sure he is working hard to do that. And as you rightly say at the end of the season there were a lot of positive vibes about the way that we were playing the game. We had put things right at the back and we started looking as if we were creating a few more chances as well. So we looked good. We have just got to build on that next season.



Fusion Designs – Middlesbrough Test Town

Recently Middlesbrough was selected to be one of seven TestTowns and Fusion Designs one of four young entrepreneurs hoping to catch the judges eyes.

The Middlesbrough TestTown winners were awarded £500 and passage to a national final. Although Luke Smith of Fusion Designs wasn’t ultimately successful, he will hopefully have gained a great deal from the training and the practical experience of trading in a town centre shop unit for two days.

TestTown BannerOne of only two locally based entrepreneurs, I chatted with Luke on the first day in his unit just outside Dundas Arcade and hoped that the rain would ease for him. I was fascinated by the nature of his business. His business card offering help with soft furnishings, home accessories, wall art and promising to be a design consultancy.

I asked Luke to tell us more.

Q: What has your day been like?

A: It’s been pretty good. It has been busy in parts and then quietened down a bit. But overall it has been quite an enjoyable experience.

Q: Tell me a bit about what you are doing?

A: I’m hoping to gain funding to set up my own interior design firm where I will be selling home ware goods as well as providing a consultancy service for people.

Q: How long have you been interested in this area?

A: I have been interested for a three or four years now. I got into it through moving my own house around.

Q: So it was an interest that you have made into a business idea.

A: Yes

Q: How did you develop the ideas?

A: I looked into more in depth details. I am sitting an online course so I gain a qualification but mostly it is self taught.

Q: What are your ambitions for the business if you win?

A: To set up my own interior design firm. Also providing the consultancy and the home ware. So, when I provide the consultancy service I can say this will look good in your living room, or your bedroom or whatever as an add on sale etc.

Q: So would someone come to you in your shop, maybe pick up some ideas and then invite you into their house for a consultation? Would that be the way it would work?

A: Yes.

Q: If it was my house for instance..

A: I would come to your house and ask what sort of colours, or what sort of styles, or what room are your looking at. I would go away and draw up a design brief or a presentation board and give you some sort of idea of what I would go for and see if you like it. If you are pleased with some aspects I would put together a design and then start to complete a scheme for you.

Q: Do you think that this could appeal to anyone to get a consultation?

A: Yes I think any age range. Either new home owners or the older generation who are perhaps haven’t perhaps kept up with trends perhaps. There are a lot of new home owners in the area at the moment so that is that a big area to look into.

Q: And a lot of people now moving into apartments and flats rather than homes as well. A lot of new houses too are small with little storage and you can easily clutter them.

A: Yes try and make them light and airy whilst being in an enclosed area.

I then left Luke as customers came into his shop seeking advice. Although he wasn’t successful in the TestTown competition he seems to have a really interesting idea. I wish him well with being able to launch the business idea in the future.


D-Day Hero Stan Hollis VC Receives Special Hometown Award

The 70th anniversary of D Day has been marked by a special award to the family of a Teesside war hero who was the recipient of the only Victoria Cross awarded on D-Day.

The son and daughter of the late Stanley E Hollis VC were presented with a Teesside Heroes Award to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings when the Middlesbrough-born sergeant displayed heroic gallantry in the face of the enemy.

The award was presented to Brian Hollis and Pauline Armistead by Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation in memory of a man charity chairman Andy Preston described “a hero in the truest sense of the word”.

The Teesside Heroes Award includes £1,000 for a local good cause, which the family plan to donate towards an exhibition commemorating her father’s heroics at Middlesbrough’s Dorman Museum.

A fundraising campaign led by Teessider Brian Bage for a bronze memorial statue of Stan to be erected outside the museum has recently reached its £150,000 target.

Born on Archibald Street in North Ormesby, Middlesbrough, Stan later lived in Robin Hood’s Bay before moving back to his hometown before the outbreak of World War II.

He won his VC on June 6, 1944, in two tremendously brave actions for which he was twice recommended for Britain’s highest military award.

First he single-handedly charged a hidden pill box with his Sten gun as his Green Howards comrades of the 6th Battalion spearheaded the invasion of Gold Beach to silence the key Mont Fleury gun battery.

Then later at Crepon, he saved two comrades trapped by deadly, concealed enemy fire which had killed eight comrades.

I spoke with Brian and Pauline about the presentation of the Teesside Heroes Award.

First Brian, who today lives in Linthorpe.

It is so nice the way everybody has been and they have made such a good thing of it. We are really pleased and thanks to everybody.

Q: Is it special that this award had been given in Middlesbrough?

B: Well all I can say is my dad would have thought it was getting a Middlesbrough honour and he was a Green Howard and he was very, very proud of being a Middlesbrough man and a Green Howard. The two go together.

Q: Do you think it is good that people are learning again about D-Day and the heroic part your father played.

B: It’s frightening to look at, that people could go through it. Do you know we were very lucky with our men.

Q: His VC is in the Green Howards museum in Richmond isn’t it?

B: It is yes. I go there fairly regularly. I have got two boys, one was in the Green Howards in Northern Ireland and if they come up we always make a visit to the Richmond museum and we have a look at the medal.

Q: Standing here at the Dorman Museum we are close by to Ayresome Park where there was always a match day presence of the Green Howards wasn’t there. Nice to keep the associations going with the town.

B: Yes. Oh it is. They are a good regiment. We all feel that way automatically. He was very proud of being a Green Howard.

I then chatted with Stanley’s daughter, Pauline Armistead.

“I think it is wonderful. After all this time. We always used to say in all the books it would say that my dad was born in Robin Hood’s Bay, he wasn’t, he was born in Archibald Street in Middlesbrough. He was a Middlesbrough man,” Pauline told me.

Q: So would he have been very proud to get this Middlesbrough award? I asked.

Pauline: “Oh he would, yes.”

Q: Of course this week we have been commemorating the D-Day anniversary.

P: I’ve been reading it in the paper and watching it on the telly. I was up at quarter past nine watching and two hours last night when it was on. I really surprised when I realised how much they were making of it.

Q: But your father is very special nationally, isn’t he?

P: Yes.

Q: You must have been very proud growing up.

P: Oh I was and he was a lovely dad.

Q: Did he say much about the war, many people didn’t did they?

P: No he didn’t. I heard most when he had his stroke. We were living at Liverton Mines then and I had a boyfriend that I later married. We were going out to a nightclub after we had closed up and got as far as the Waterwheel pub and I just knew there was something wrong. Of course we didn’t have mobile phones then. And I said we’ll have to go back. And we went back and my mam was stood on the doorstep and she said I knew you would come. We had an open fire in the living room and everytime there were sparks from the wood burning he was back in Normandy.. Every spark was gun fire.

And when I was very young he used to stay in the bedroom and scream at night, it used to be terrible, of course I was only 4 or 5 year old and I didn’t understand. But he used to push money under the door to my mam to take us out.

Q: A nice sunny day like this and a proud day for you.

P: I know it is nice we do remember him on a day like this.

Finally I asked Teesside Philanthropic Foundation Chairman, Andy Preston to say a few words about his feelings on presenting this Teesside Heroes Award.

“The foundation charity makes an award every month to someone on Teesside who gives their time and energy on a voluntary basis and makes the community better. We call them Teesside Heroes because they are heroic in a way. But when I heard about the genuine heroism of Stan Hollis… I remember where I was, I was no the stairs in my house, I thought he is the Teesside Hero. And it is not to belittle the achievements of the others, this is a different kind of act. This is the only VC awarded on D-Day from the many men who were there and many who died. The fact that he came from this town and not enough people know about that . We need to make people here aware of it and we need to make people across the UK aware that he came from here and that he was proud to come from here. So I can’t wait to see the statue and I think I will feel a bit proud and it will be nice for all of us.

“It must be a very emotional thing for his family. I am talking to them today and I don’t want to invade their emotional experience. I think it must be a nice thing to have from a family’s perspective.

“This charity works on raising money from publicity but actually we don’t really want to encroach on their space, it’s their day. This is a lovely thing and when that statue is there it will be great for the town. And we have got to then make a fuss on social media of having the statue to the only man awarded a VC on D-Day.

“This Friday on the anniversary there is going to be loads of stuff going on that this great man who was born, lived here and a statue is going to be raised to him is going to be erected to him. Raised by local money for a local hero. Hopefully it will bring in people to come and look at it.”

As part of the award, Stan will also receive a place on the Boro Brick Road outside Middlesbrough FC’s Riverside Stadium, featuring an inscribed brick that will read “Stanley E Hollis VC – Teesside Hero”.

Middlesbrough FC and Steve Gibson’s company Bulkhaul are patrons of the Philanthropic Foundation, along with many other generous local businesses and individuals including Cleveland Cable Company, AV Dawson, Erimus Insurance Brokers, Macks Solicitors, Glanbia Nutritionals, Devereux Transporter and Distribution, Evolution Business and Tax Advisors, px Group, Visualsoft, First Choice Labels and The Endeavour Partnership.

The Philanthropic Foundation would like to receive nominations for the Teesside Heroes Award. For more details visit

Photos by Tracy Hyman