Africa Express Delivery is Phenomenal

What an incredible event for Middlesbrough and Teesside the day Africa Express came to town. The pride of Africa came and played. They played for an amazing 4 hours and put us on their map. I have the t-shirt to prove it.

A full train load of musicians from three continents clambered down onto the platform of Middlesbrough railway station yesterday afternoon to begin their national tour right here in the heart of Teesside. On board the train, made up of largely vintage railway stock the musicians from countries right round Africa, joined forces with American rappers and British pop legends like Carl Barat and Damon Albarn, the man behind the project.

The musicians immediately split up to play pop up gigs across the town. I joined the throng at the brand new, state of the art My Place youth centre, North Street in old Middlesbrough. The converted former Custom House building was the scene of a rap lesson and session from Brighton’s hip hop-sters Rizzle Kicks, accompanied by Damon whilst Paul Smith belted out a Maximo Park number with Rizzle Kicks guitar accompaniment. Later the kids themselves could join the on stage music, clanking the drum machine or rapping.

Wayne, stage name Coby got up to do some rapping with Rizzle Kicks and the other musicians. The My Place user said, “ it was nerve racking because I didn’t have a proper beat. So I just free styled it.” I said to him that it looked a great place. “Yes it is My Place.” The perfect reply from Wayne.

So, the scene was set now for the main event and what an evening it was. Four hours plus of almost continuous music before an enraptured crowd at Middlesbrough Town Hall. We had African, American and British music interweaving and fusing to form something very special. As Damon said early on in the piece, this was the first night, “we could be lucky but also unlucky.” Semi improvised. Some basic structures and collusions worked out on the train from Euston. A train funded by the Cultural Olympiad. This was the first proper run through it could have crashed but instead it burned brightly as a quite incredible thing indeed.

Maximo Park with African co-vocals. Unthanks and Mali’s Rokia Traore. South and North Africa hip hop duo bridging the continent. And the incredible high energy finale of Jupiter and his sound of the Congo took the roof off the hall.

As the show finally ended over 4 hours of continuous music into the night, those remaining roared for more, more, more. Carl Barat of Libertines fame, wandered over to the stage edge and knocked a few numbers for old times sake on an acoustic guitar without a microphone. It was an apt way to end a special day that will stick long in the memory.

In fact it was so good that just today I thanked Jupiter and Damon Albarn on Middlesbrough Railway Station, telling them that in 35 years of going to gigs at Middlesbrough Town Hall this was the most special evening I’ve ever experienced. I wasn’t quite expecting that. It was that good.

Words Robert Nichols

Photos – Tracy Hyman

Africa Express


Table Tennis Ace Paul Drinkhall Gets Set

I was lucky enough to see Middlesbrough born Paul Drinkhall kick off his Olympics campaign at the Excel. The 22 years old has broken into the top 100 in the world this year and continued his progress by powering through the first and second rounds in the singles. Paul eventually succumbed to a player seeded 8, Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov. No shame in that. Before embarking for the Olympic village The GB no.1 stopped off at Acklam Hall to lend his support to the SABIC Tees Pride 10k and encourage everyone to sign up the popular race this September 2nd.

Paul is pictured above at Acklam Hall with Middlesbrough Olympic swimmer, Aimee Willmott.

Q: First of all tell us why you are here today in Middlesbrough.

PD: Just helping promote the 10k ad 3k run that they are doing here and I think it is an amazing chance for people to get involved with sport. And it is just a great opportunity for people to keep fit, get healthy and hopefully with the Olympics this year a lot more people will be interested in getting involved with events like this.

Q: Are you going to be doing it yourself?

PD:  No, unfortunately not. I have a lot of training to do between now and the Olympics and then after the Olympics I’m moving out to Germany to compete in the First League out there. So unfortunately this year my schedule’s a bit too tight but hopefully in the years to come I can stay involved and hopefully run it.

Q: Do you think though that with all the buzz about the Olympics people are going to be more interested in doing it?

PD: Yes definitely that has to be the idea this year. All around the country not just there are people trying to get more people involved in sport and keep people fit and healthy and it is a great opportunity to meet new people and there are so many positives about it. That I think that everyone that is available and can make themselves available should try and get down and do it.

Q: There are lots of positives to running for the benefit of your heath aren’t there?

PD: Yes definitely. The UK has been attacked for obesity but events like this are amazing. A 3k fun run that you can do and the 10k as well. There is an event for you, whether you really want to push yourself in the 10k or just go out and do a bit of a fun run in the 3k. So I think it is great that everyone can come down and do what they want and if not come down and watch and just enjoy yourself.

Q: Because it is not an unachievable distance is it, 10K?

PD: Yes you don’t have to sprint it or be like Usain Bolt in the 100 metres. You can get through it with a little bit of training which is good as well. And even if you train and don’t actually do the 10k it is a great opportunity just to get out there and do a bit of running. I think a lot of people would enjoy running if they did try it.

Q: I’ve got tickets for First Round of the table tennis in the Olympics and this is an opportunity for table tennis to attract a lot of new fans isn’t it?

PH: Definitely. I think it is a minority sport and something like the Olympic games being in Great Britain is a great opportunity for table tennis and for myself to try and promote ourselves and get more in the public eye and hopefully we can get some good results. If not then put on some good shows and try and get more and more people involved and get more publicity through it.

Q; When I was growing we had a great tradition in this area through Ormesby table tennis club. You are carrying that on aren’t you?

PH: Yes I am trying my best to and the rest of the guys in the team are trying to do the best we can for ourselves and for table tennis and the country. With a stage like the Olympics and being in London we can keep continue doing that. For myself in this area, sport’s massive in the north east, so hopefully again with the Olympics I can try and push myself and keep the table tennis legacy alive and hopefully get it to be one of the big sports in the region in the future.

Q: I’ve only ever watched table tennis on tv except for where myself and friends have played. So is it good as a spectator sport, live?

PD: I think when you go and watch it live you understand more of the speed and the power and the spin. And the speed people are moving around the table and how far we are from the table. You get more of a sight of how difficult it is to play it rather than on tv where you don’t necessarily get the speed or get the spin and get the speed of the player involved. But when you can go down and actually watch it and get the opportunity to do that I think your eyes are opened to what table tennis is really like.

Q: What about you, what are your aims as far as the Olympics are concerned?

PD: I am not expecting anything big. I am still only 22 and I qualified through the given places (wildcard) through the country. But I know when I’m playing at my best I can challenge the best in the world. And with it being the home games I’m going to go there and going to do that. And I have prepared well I have been in China. I am just fine tuning really now getting everything ready for the matches. I can push the top players and if I get the right draw then who knows.

Q: You must be excited to be part of the Home games.

PD: Yes definitely there is such a buzz around the whole nation not just within sport. It is like with the Torch as well, everyone is getting involved. I think everyone at the beginning thought it was just going to be London Olympics but I think the Torch has proved that it is a nation thing. Everyone is trying to support everybody and get involved with sport. So it is just a great opportunity for everyone.

Runners of all abilities are encouraged to take part in the SABIC Tees Pride 10k or 3k Fun Run on Sunday, September 2.

Now in its eighth year, Teesside’s biggest annual running event takes place shortly after the London 2012 Olympics, with its Middlesbrough Council organisers targeting 4,000 entrants for the first time.

The route of the SABIC Tees Pride 10k takes in Acklam Road, Ladgate Lane, Marton Road, Marton Burn Road, Emerson Avenue, Green Lane, Acklam Road again and finally Hall Drive.

  • To sign up for either run, visit call  01642 515672  for an application form or pick one up at Middlesbrough leisure centres or the central library. The 10k is also open to wheelchair athletes.
  • Entry for the SABIC Tees Pride 10k is £15 or £13 for affiliated runners. Entry for the 3k Fun Run is £7, with family entries just £24 for two adults and up to three children aged under-16.
  • Those interested in running for a charity can find out more at The site also includes details of various local running routes, a training plan for beginners, plus videos and pictures from previous runs.

Mowbray’s Delight at New Signings

Four SigningsIt was all smiles at Hurworth yesterday as Boro’s four new signings were seated at the top table before the media. A mixture of experience and rich potential could the four contain the missing ingredients from last term to push on back towards the Premier?

Boro boss Tony Mowbray yesterday expressed his delight at Boro’s four new signings as they were paraded for the media at the Hurworth training ground. He was keen to point out that they are quality players but also quality human beings that can make a big, positive impact from day one on those around them at the training ground. Mowbray was also quick to add that the four could make all the difference as we strive for promotion.

Boro boss Tony Mowbray looked a pleased and contented man as he sat with his four new players in the press room at Hurworth. I’ve not seen the place so full for years as it was crammed full of representatives from national as well as local tv, radio and newspapers. And me..

This is all a positive sign I think of how much interest these four new signings have brought to Boro. Furthermore, the acquisitions of Grant Leadbitter, Stuart Parnaby, Jonathan Woodgate and Emanuel Ledesma have been realised without breaking the bank, Mowbray wanted to push out that point. But they have signalled the ambition of the club to climb a few rungs further up the ladder from last season’s 7th place finish.

But Mowbray was also keen to add that we might expect more new faces before the big kick off in August.

I taped a few of the questions and answers for you:

Q: Are you pleased to have secured the four new signings?

TM: I think we are obviously delighted with the quality of the footballer. But just as important for me the personality and the quality of the human being we have brought in as well I would like to say. It is good that they are in early and that they are making an impact from day one in pre-season. And out there when they are all doing hard work their characters are a little bit more open and obvious to see when you are pushing them to the boundaries. But yes delighted.

I think there will be more additions before the ball starts rolling in August 11th for us against Bury but I’m just delighted that we have got some good footballers and some good people. Good players win football matches.  That has got to be our aim this year. We have got to try and win games, be at the right end of the table again, be very competitive in what is always a hard league. Some teams are spending money and going for it. And I would like to think that we will be in there with a good shout.

Q: Three of the signings have very strong North East connections. Is that important that they understand about what is required here?

TM: Yes I think so. I have always talked about Teesside and Middlesbrough being like an island in the UK. And I think people have an understanding of what north east football fans are about and what their expectations and demands are. It’s good that Jonathan, Grant and Stuart have got that knowledge from day one. The demands are always high when you play for any of the north east teams. We are striving to get back to the Premier League to get back on a level par with our north east neighbours and we will be giving it our best shot this year.

Q: You mentioned how strong the Championship is both in terms of the strength of teams but also financially. How well equipped do you think are to cope on both fronts?

TM: Well I think we are still going through a slight adjustment with the finances but I think the signings sitting at this table show that you don’t have to spend millions and millions of pounds to bring good quality footballers into your club and we can draw on their experience and quality in the position they play on the pitch to help push forward from last year. Our last year, for a long, long spell was progress for us and as in every football club you want continual improvement and we are striving to improve on 7th we will give ourselves a chance to get out of the league this year.


Woodgate Aiming To Get Back to the Top with Boro

Jonathan Woodgate’s signing for Boro was like a bolt from the blue sending shockwaves across Teesside but also pushing us back into SKY News for the first time in aeons. Last week all four of Mowbray’s new signings were officially unveiled at Hurworth and the media were there in droves, not just local but nationals were represented. The return of the local lad that made good for England has ushered in a new wave of interest and underlined our ambition and determination to leap out of the Championship.

I joined Tfm’s Sarah Colley last week as she chatted with the former Nunthorpe school pupil about his return to the fold at Middlesbrough. What were his aims and intentions in coming back? And what did it mean to him playing once more for the team he supports?

JW: The aim is to get back in the Premiership. We all know that it is really tough, with 46 games but the aim is to try and get back in the Premiership.

Q: How do you feel playing for Boro cos you are from here? Is it different from when you are playing for different teams, like Stoke?

JW: You give it all. You give it your all, no matter who you are playing for. Possibly when you are playing for your hometown team you have got everyone at you. When you’ve finished playing you have got your friends ringing you, you have got your family. But you give your all for every single team. Being a Boro fan it is a bit different.

Q: How has it been being back in pre-season training?

JW: Hard. Do you want to try it?

Q: No you are alright (laughs)..

JW: No, it is hard. It is double sessions every day. There is a lot of running involved. There is a lot of football but times have changed. Where you were just constantly running before the ball is out on the first day, the manager says and he puts across how he wants to play and we do a lot of passing. So it is not as hard as it used to be.

Q: Is there a particular part that you don’t really like? Something at the gym etc?

JW: No I don’t really mind. I think you have got to try and do it all. In every session the coaching staff put on you have got to apply yourself right.

Q: It is all about diet etc these days as well, isn’t it?

JW: You’ve got to look after yourself. The chef upstairs who looks after us is a really good cook. We go home and we get fed as well.

Q: What are your thoughts about the rest of your teammates?

JW: They all share the same ambition as myself to try and get the club into the Premiership. There are a lot of young players here obviously they need to grow and try and hopefully get in the first team. They could be the difference this season.

Q: Do you think this year is the year that we can really go back into the Premier League?

JW: Are you a Boro fan? I like the way you said “can we.”

Q: Of course..

JW: That is the aim from everyone. Everyone wants to be in the Premiership, the fans do and we are no different and I think we can do it this season.

Q: You play the same position as Tony Mowbray used to and he was talking earlier about how he was his fittest when he was in his 30s. Did you ever used to watch him play when you were younger?

JW: Yes I used to go to Ayresome Park when I was 6 and watch him and Gary Pallister play at the back, a great partnership together. I used to try and model myself on Gary Pallister, the way he played. He said that his best years were when he was 32 and onwards and hopefully I can bring that to Middlesbrough as well.

Q: What other teams do you think are going to be a big threat for Middlesbrough this season?

JW: Blackburn, Wolves, Brighton. There are a few though aren’t there?

Q: Why do you pick them out in particular?

JW: They are strong and they are spending a lot of money on players. They’ve recruited Danny Murphy, they’ve got a forward from Portugal in Gomez, they’ve got Leon Best from Newcastle and they are spending a lot of money not just on transfer fees but on wages as well.

Q: What has it been like just getting to know the other lads in the team again? Has it changed a lot here?

JW: Yes all good. It has changed a lot. The manager said there are ten spaces free in the changing room now. When I was there it was rammed full. Hopefully he can bring a few more players in.


Aimee Willmott in the Swim for Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough’s Olympic swimmer Aimee Willmott is proud to be representing her town and country at the London Olympics. Last month she stepped out of the pool to launch the SABIC Tees Pride10k which she will be running herself on September 2nd.

This interview was conducted with Sarah Colley of Tfm FM and took place on 21st June at a rainy Acklam Hall close to the start and finish line of Teesside’s premier 10k event. Aiming to attract numbers of entrants this year the organisers enlisted Aimee and fellow Olympic competitor, table tennis champion Paul Drinkhall to officially launch the race and inspire people to sign up.

Aimee introduces herself, talks about SABIC Tees Pride 10k and then her hopes for the Olympics and how proud she feels to be taking part in the greatest show on earth.

I am Aimee Willmott and I will be competing at the Olympic games in 400 metres individual medley.

Q: We will get onto the Olympics in a minute but first of all why are you here in Middlesbrough today?

AW: I am here to help promote the Middlesbrough 10k. I did it last year and it was fantastic. So I think more people should get involved and take part this year.

Q: Why do you think more people might take part this year?

AW: Well, it is Olympic year so obviously there is a big emphasis on sport. So if people can do something that they enjoy and take part and do anything really that helps show that we are an active country.

Q: So I take it that you are as confident out of the water with your running ability?

AW: I’m not a fantastic runner. Last year I was really happy when I finished and got under the hour. But this year hopefully if I can go a little bit faster then I will be happy with that. But if not it is just a great start to the season to get fit really.

Q: The Olympics are coming up, how is your training coming on.

AW: Training has stepped up over the lat couple of weeks, so it is really hard at the moment. That’s all because in a few weeks time I will be easing off the training so hopefully it will feel a lot easier and I will obviously race faster. So at the moment it is really hard so I can’t wait fro the easy bit.

Q: And what are your hopes for the Olympics. Where do you think you might end up?

AW: I would like to race and finish in a personal best time. If I can do that then I will be really happy with myself. But my ultimate aim would be to come top eight and make that Olympic final. Then I would be just over the moon.

Q: And do you have anyone that you think is real competition, threat to you when you are out there?

AW: Everyone that is in the event are around similar times so it is going to be a really close race. So, obviously it is just about who is ready on the day to get in and race and if I can race my best then I have got as good a chance as anyone else.

Q: How do you feel about representing the north east and your country?

AW: I am really excited and obviously really proud because everyone in Middlesbrough and all over the country are really excited for the Olympics. So it is fantastic to be representing them as well as myself. To just try and do everyone proud that is going to be watching because it is in London an is not going to happen again for a long time. So it is just going to be fantastic to get involved.

Q: How long have you been swimming? Was it from a really young age? Tell us a bit about your journey?

AW: Yeah I started swimming in school lessons. My dad taught me to swim when I was little. And when I was 9 I had my first little competition and then from that at 11 and 12 I swam at national championships. Then when I was 13 I got selected for Youth Olympic games and then everything progressed from there. That was when I realised that I could be a fairly good swimmer if I just put in the effort and all that hard work.

Q: What is it about swimming that you obviously live so much?

AW: The training is really hard. Anything that takes a lot of effort isn’t going to be easy. But I guess it is the reward that when you are finishing you know that you’ve swam well and it is all because you have done all that training and all that hard work. When you are training and the rest of the team and the people you are training with, you are all bouncing off each other. It is just fantastic to be part of that feel good attitude and feel good environment.

Q: Can you tell us something about the training you do everyday, please?

AW: Yes I train ten times a week in the pool and I train twice a week in the gym. So I do about 60 000 metres in the water, so its quite a gruelling schedule and swimming is quite hard. So I train four mornings a week, every evening, Saturday morning and I have Sunday off. So it is quite a busy week, every week. So it is fantastic when you just get to lay in on that Sunday.

Q: So, you have got to be really dedicated then?

AW: Yes, you have to be really dedicated in anything you really want to achieve in. And I guess that I was really lucky that I was fairly good at swimming and I enjoyed it. So both things together it just pays off And all that hard work and training it ahs been showing the rewards.

Q: Where are you training?

AW: My training is at Middlesbrough swimming club at the Neptune swimming baths. I train with quite a few other swimmers, a bit younger than me but they are obviously as enthusiastic as I am so we bounce off each other in training.

Q: It is great then that you can be based locally and train locally.

AW: Yes it is great that I still live at home and all my friends from school are around here, so it is fantastic that I am swimming and everything is not just about swimming. When I want to get away from it I can go and see my friends because they’re not swimmers. So it is fantastic to have both sides, swimming and my social side.

Q: And you said as you come towards the Olympics your training will scale down.

AW: Yes training normally picks up a couple of weeks before and then about the two weeks before everything gets a bit easier. So I will stop going in the gym training and I’ll do less metres and it will be less intense and more race specific. It gets easier so it makes you feel a lot fresher and you’ve got a lot more energy and its just basically makes you feel a lot fresher before you race.

Q: You must be really looking forward to being part of the Olympic village and the buzz and everything.

AW: I can’t wait. Even just to get there and just be in that atmosphere of all the Team

GB athletes and even athletes from other countries. It is just going to be fantastic to experience such a huge event. Obviously I’m 19 and its just going to be completely overwhelming and I just can’t wait to get in and race on the day. And then I’ve got the rest of the Olympics to experience the whole thing.

Q: So it is fantastic that you should be 19 now when the Olympics is in London, in this country.

AW: Yes I am lucky. I could have been 12 or I could have been 40. I am lucky that it has come at the right time in my swimming career. There is nothing that can determine that it has just happened and obviously I have got the luck of the draw and it is just fantastic.

Q; But it is the result of a lot of hard work.

AW: Yes, a lot of hard work and dedication but it is just something I have always wanted to do so I have trained for it. So I am just really lucky that it has paid off.

Q: Well I hope that it all goes really well for you.

AW: Thanks.


Two of Teesside’s London 2012 Olympians are calling on club runners, fitness fanatics, fundraisers and couch potatoes to get into the Olympic spirit by entering the forthcoming SABIC Tees Pride 10k or 3k Fun Run. Aimee Willmott and Paul Drinhall launched this year’s SABIC Tees Pride 10k.

Now in its eighth year, Teesside’s biggest annual running event takes place on Sunday, September 2, with its Middlesbrough Council organisers targeting 4,000 entrants for the first time.

The route of the SABIC Tees Pride 10k takes in Acklam Road, Ladgate Lane, Marton Road, Marton Burn Road, Emerson Avenue, Green Lane, Acklam Road again and finally Hall Drive.

There will be water stations and entertainment from local bands around the route, while all 10k and 3k runners will receive a commemorative medal and T-shirt.

To sign up for either run, visit, call  01642 515672  for an application form or pick one up at Middlesbrough leisure centres or the central library. The 10k is also open to wheelchair athletes.

Entry for the SABIC Tees Pride 10k is £15 or £13 for affiliated runners. Entry for the 3k Fun Run is £7, with family entries just £24 for two adults and up to three children aged under-16.

Those interested in running for a charity can find out more at The site also includes details of various local running routes, a training plan for beginners, plus videos and pictures from previous runs.