Rob Edgar writes:
Is the North East a "large, desolate and uninhabited area" (Quote from Lord Howell of Guildford)? A couple of weeks ago, in my home-town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, I spoke to local music shop and recording studio owner Brian Martin who has opened a café on the town's High Street, dedicated to live music and jazz.
The Kazmiranda café has been hosting live music since the 6th January this year and puts on everything from open-mic nights (nobody is excluded, the only rule is “no backing tracks!”) to gigs with Brian's band, the Tweed River Jazz Band featuring some of the best local talent including trumpeter Peter Roughead (an honorary citizen of New Orleans; he went out there to learn the style) and violinist Lucy Cowan (who began her career in Vienna, she teaches and plays locally as well coaching annual chamber music courses).
The Café itself is a cosy place; it offers home-made food courtesy of Brian's wife Karen Macdonald (the couple owned a bistro in the early 90s before going into music full-time) by day. There is no bar but Kazmiranda offers a corkage fee. The décor was done on a shoe-string but you would never notice; Brian is a real collector and it can feel as if you are stepping into a museum. Paintings adorn the walls, old radios abound (including a 1923 BBC crystal radio set – totally intact), and, if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Brian's 1936 Rickenbacker electric guitar, one of the first in the world.
Berwick and the North East do very well, a few years ago the management of Berwick's local theatre (the Maltings) changed. The new Chief Executive at the time, Miles Gregory (now living in New Zealand) re-vamped its image, and it was firmly established as a cinema, concert hall and function room. The theatre is now often used as a warm-up venue for stand up comedians and has seen the likes of Jason Manford and Reginald D Hunter on its stage.
And there's more, in Berwick and beyond:
The Berwick Film Festival
Pier Red, a new art gallery/bar/bistro also featuring live jazz on occasion which opened recently
Gateshead's Sage which is where I was first able to hear Herbie Hancock, Lionel Louke, Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, and more live.
Until very recently, if you felt like going somewhere more intimate, you could walk to the Jazz Café in Newcastle's Pink Lane and hear some of the finest music in the city.
There are jazz nights in The Chillingham, The Star Inn, and the Black Horse in Whitley Bay – and all of this is admirably and reliably covered by Lance Liddle over at Bebop Spoken Here.
The North East of England is home to many vibrant music and art scenes and some of the most breathtaking views in the world. Desolate is not the word that comes to mind.