It’s Mint Up North: Just Passing Through…

Resize Billy No Mates

January 28, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

I arrived (with less flourish)
just after the Angel came.
My first view of Newcastle,
the West Road at night —
the neon-lit tracks of a rollercoaster.

Given what’s going on in Newcastle at the moment, I will have to talk about the impact of the proposed cuts to arts funding and libraries at some point during my week’s curation of ‘A Wondrous Place’. But first off I’m going to let you know what’s kept me this far north for so long.

When I came to Newcastle in 1999 I knew one person. But that was okay because I wasn’t moving to Newcastle I was just visiting. For the summer. Then I’d be heading somewhere else. Nothing concrete, but I was sure the North East was just a stopover rather than a destination. I just needed some time away after a fairly disastrous third year at uni and Newcastle seemed far enough away to do that. It was definitely just temporary.

So it’s a bit of a surprise to find that it’s almost fourteen years since I found myself being driven along the West Road just as dusk darkened into night toward my new temporary home. A big old house sandwiched between a dentist’s and a youth hostel on Graingerville North. Apparently Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits used to live in that house back whenever it was likely that Mark Knopfler would’ve been skint enough to live in a run-down shared house in Arthur’s Hill.

I didn’t stay Billy-Nearly-No-Mates for long. Within minutes of arriving I’d doubled my Newcastle mates and after a cup of tea we headed out to meet some more. I was lucky. The one person I did know knew a lot of people. All still in their mid-twenties (or thereabouts) so the groups that had formed during uni hadn’t quite dissipated into nine-to-fives & parenthood. I just stumbled into a new ready-made group of friends that included musicians, artists, designers and makers.

Creative people were at the heart of my first interactions in Newcastle, the cultural revolution that had begun in the nineties meant that there were opportunities that kept them in the area rather than seeing them all head south. They set up their own studios and became part of the visual arts landscape and the music scene. So during this week I’ll introduce you to a couple of the people that influenced my decision to stay and let you know about some of the places that make this region such a brilliant place to be.

And to get things started I’ll answer last week’s guest curator Chrissy Brand’s question:

“If you were to host a festival to showcase north-eastern culture to the world, who and what would be on the bill?”

Newcastle Quayside

Newcastle Quayside














Well to be honest I’m going to cheat a little on this one… I would probably get the brilliant Melanie Rashbrooke and John Challis at Trashed Organ to organise it for me. They put on arguably the most exciting and oh so very entertaining nights in Newcastle and they know just about every talented musician and spoken word artist in town and beyond.

When these guys started producing music and spoken word nights in 2010 it really shifted expectations. The nights are raucous, playful and eclectic. They’re very, very good. If you’re in town and Trashed Organ is on and you don’t go along – you’re a muppet.

So back to the festival… We’d have music, theatre and spoken word popping up around the city, but centring on the bourgeoning Ouseburn.

Obviously it’d be brilliant to have Maximo Park, Everything Everything and The Futureheads. If we could tempt the phenomenal Peter and David Brewis to cut short their break from Field Music activity I’d be immensely happy. Other must haves: The Baghdaddies, Matt Stalker and the Fables, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour, Kathryn Williams, Gem Andrews, The Unthanks, The Lake Poets and The Cornshed Sisters.

Newcastle is rife with fantastic poets and performers and if I tried to list them all I’d end up missing somebody off so I’ll leave that entirely in the capable hands of the Organ Grinders.

It’d be lovely to have a bit of theatre too so I’d ask Kate Craddock at GIFT to curate a programme of theatre – hopefully she’d invite Unfolding Theatre, Tender Buttons and Zendeh to produce well, whatever they wanted really as they’re all really exciting, innovative theatre companies.

So there you go. I hope you’d come along.

Avatar of Degna Stone

Degna Stone

Degna Stone visited Newcastle during the Summer of 1999 and never went home. She is a Midlander in self-imposed exile. Degna performs regularly at venues across the North East and has appeared at StAnza International Poetry Festival and Durham Book Festival. She has worked with Apples and Snakes, English PEN and New Writing North to deliver creative writing workshops for adults and young people. She blogs, ever so occasionally, over at and In 2010 she won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North and her debut chapbook 'Between the Floorboards' was published by ID on Tyne Press. She was selected for Verb New Voices, a BBC/ACE spoken word development programme, which culminated in the performance of her poem sequence 'Songs from Whenever' on BBC Radio 3's The Verb. Her second pamphlet will be published by Red Squirrel Press in the spring. She’s just finished an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and is co-editor of 'Bucher’s Dog', a new biannual poetry magazine. She’s tried her hand at stand up comedy, film making and theatre directing but poetry is what she knows best. Visit