On my last visit to the faded seaside frontage that is Seaton Carew, I dropped off a photo I had been lent to scan. It is a black and white picture of the outside of the Rink, looking quite depressing really, with a car parked outside, a lone passerby and what looks like boarded up windows. It’s the only pic I’ve ever seen showing the entire frontage and it doesn’t immediately occur to me that this would make an ideal 40th wedding anniversary gift. But that, complete with biro inscription on the envelope is what Nancy O’Connor’s husband gave her as a memento of happy times.

He has passed away now and she’s very protective of the photo – asking her cousin John to ring me to make sure I will be returning it forthwith. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and memories more powerful than mere actuality.

I have heard this from other people; it seems the Rink was a magical place that didn’t display its secrets obviously. I am put in mind of some sort of fairytale environment…like the stories I read when I was a child where there was something to be revealed behind a forbidding door, or perhaps treasure stored in a room which can only be accessed via a secret passage hidden in the roots of a forbidding tree (as in the Tinderbox by Hans Andersen).

Having delivered the photo back – waking John from an impromptu kip in his armchair – I ask him if he thinks Nancy might be up for a telephone interview.

“Ask her yourself” he says…and hands me the phone

“mmmm” says I…”I would rather you spoke to her first as I know she doesn’t like strangers bothering her.”

“I’ll show you the secret code” says John. He dials and lets the phone ring twice then hangs up. Then rings again. Nancy answers.

“I’ve got Neil Armstrong here” says John “he wants to ask you something.” He thrusts the phone into my hand and makes an aside to me…

“nothing like doing these things when they occur to you” he says with a wry smile. I don’t think John was ever backwards in coming forwards.



Nancy sounds hale and hearty and laughs a lot – again not the impression I had gleaned of a lady who ‘doesn’t get out much these days’. I think of the room beneath the tree…and that Nancy lives in a similar place in my imagination. I guess ,as I probably won’t ever meet her face to face, that this is where she will remain for me; an illustration with a voice, in some ways more potent precisely because of that.

When I left John’s house my next stop was an opening at Hartlepool gallery, but the light was so impressive, so theatrical, that I had to park the car and take a wander along the sea front. That seemed a wasted opportunity, so I returned to the car, got out my camera gear and took some beautiful footage of the sea, with Teesside in the distance, and also, looking North, back to the Headland of Hartlepool. Long shadows, lone figures; a timeless atmosphere.

I have recently visited Mark Wallinger’s installation in the Baltic and, staring through my lens, I was reminded of his 2011 film ‘construction site’ where a group of men erect scaffolding on a beach, framing the seas foreshortened height, and almost touching the horizon line. I was seeing that view through my own lens but this time a small figure of a man running backwards on the sand in silhouette entered my canvas; three similarly sketched children apparently chasing him, as if part of a deliberately contrived, poignant, cinematic panorama.

He was in fact filming them as he ran backwards, unaware that I was also filming him, filming them…

I was glad I brought my camera .


FOOLS RUSH IN, WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO GO……but wise men never fall in love so how are they to know?

So goes the lyric written by Johnny Mercer in 1940, later sung by Frank Sinatra, Rick Nelson and Doris Day to name but a few; and in the spirit of this project that sort of fits the sentiment this week.

Last week, just after I published my post on here, I managed to speak to what I thought was going to be Kip Heron’s son, though I must admit to a slight nagging in the back of my brain that something might not be quite right. With a name like Jacky Arrowsmith…hmm well, could be male or female, but if he is a man why then has he changed his surname? When I finally got through on the phone the first thing I said was (I so hate calling people for the first time)

“hello, is that Jacky?”

“Do I sound like a woman?” came the reply

“erm no I guess not!… sorry it’s Neil here, the artist interested in Kip Heron” (now forever to be known as ‘total dipstick’).

Well in my defence I was only going off what I had been told. Turns out Kip never had a son, but had two daughters, and to further confuse matters I was talking to her husband.

“Hey, in the North East ‘wor Jacky’ is as common as whippets” I offer up… ho hum.

And yes I admit, 30 minutes after I published last week’s update, I did a tiny tweak. I changed all references to Jacky from ‘him’ into ‘her’. I should probably have left it, as it sits interestingly within the framework of this work, as in, ‘misinformation passed on and digested into assumption and fact’. For some reason I decided not to leave it; I think because I had so recently published the piece and felt if I had the ability to quickly revise it then I should.

A friend of mine had commented this week that the story of ‘my story’ is probably what the piece should be about. I certainly seem to be uncovering, or at least piecing together, a jigsaw of forgotten things that hitherto hasn’t been assembled so rigorously. When I did finally speak to Jacky she expressed a similar sentiment; that so much is passing away with a generation that came through the wars and experienced the most rapid change of any previous century.

More foolishly it turns out, I was very wrong about Kip not having travelled much. It seems he spent quite some time in London playing and touring with big bands of the day before returning to his native town to form his own band. There is another wonderful link here, as he was a member of the big band Musicians Unlimited, right up until his death in 1997. If you have read my previous posts you may recall this is the band who will be playing the song I’ve written for the installation.

Overall – progress may be a little ad hoc but I am both concerned to be sensitive to their stories whilst remaining deliberately ‘open agenda’ in style. In truth; none of this would get done unless I did jump right in there and started splashing about a bit.

So, there I was, in the fab Hartlepool maritime museum, wearing rubber gloves and handling the well worn, nay, beaten up, brass tubes and three valves that comprise the object we call ‘a trumpet’. A passing punter happened to ask;

“is that Kip Heron’s trumpet?.. it has a link to the Beatles you know – he used to play in George Martin’s band”

No I didn’t know that – but thus far I can’t confirm or deny it, though I know a man who can, as in the cabinet there is a biog. about Kip, written by a gentleman called Gavin Smith, whose name I recognised. I have in fact met Gavin before, but despite that didn’t know he used to play in a band with Kip.

It really is all about asking the right questions.

But knowing what the right questions are is the ultimate trick.



Having set a precedent with the Hartbeat’s drum kit last week, I am now on a roll with Kip Heron’s trumpet. Finally I have permission to take it out of the glass case in Hartlepool museum and spend an afternoon with the little instrument of joy.

As a child I always wanted to play the trumpet, but my school only had one and some older boy apparently had loan of it for the duration, so my aspiration was never fulfilled. Didn’t really consider it at the time, but I’m thinking now that the trumpet was a forerunner to the electric guitar in the ‘sexy instrument’ stakes. Singular and difficult to ignore, it could be considered the centre forward of my fab fantasy musical squad.

People still recall Kip in Hartlepool; he is one of their musical legends even though (or possibly because) he didn’t travel far afield.

The trouble with recall going back to the 50’s or beyond is it can get a little sketchy. Right at the beginning of this project I met a lady whose husband played in Kip Heron’s band. At that time his name didn’t mean anything to me; it was only later, after many more mentions, that I realised Kip was a bit of guy. People in their eighties and nineties understandably project backwards with a high degree of selectivity and a little grease on the lens. Some details are clear but often the same things are repeated and it can be difficult to get a more complex picture. So it was a real coup to discover that someone at the museum had the email address of Kip Heron’s daughter.

I don’t know why but I always assume that generations have remained geographically faithful to this insular town. Sending off emails to Jacky I wasn’t hopeful of a reply, but amazingly, having beaten the spam filter (you never know with an address like [email protected]) two days later I had a response. Seems Jacky in fact lives in Chester but, as serendipity would have it, they are due to holiday in Seahouses…further north and up the coast. Whenever they get up north apparently they go visit the trumpet.

I like that – a bit of a pilgrimage – a musical instrument as a vessel of history; a tangible extension of a loved one.

I wonder why his sibling didn’t take it up. I’ll ask her; tho I could just as well ask the same question of myself. None of my three children play music (except via iplayer ha ha) even though music has been central to my own life. I am unable to answer why myself. We’ll see if she can…

Piecing together tangential links and following ad hoc leads had me pondering the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory; the idea that everyone is, on average, only six steps away from an introduction to another person on earth. I’ve written about my Rink photo of the Manfred Mann group previously and also mentioned Ray Minhinnett (son of Hartlepool made good as a renowned blues guitarist). I mentioned to him that I will be interviewing the Manfred’s in November and he tell me he knows them well. Connection number one. Later this week, at a friend’s mother’s funeral, I am chatting to my ex-drummer’s son Dominic. He tells me that his band, the Narrators have just played a blues festival in Lancashire. We chat a bit more and I tell Dominic about the Rink project. Turns out the Manfred’s were playing the same festival on the same night as Dom’s band…it feels a bit like ‘step on board a train to anywhere – this train departs to all stations!’

Been logging my archive footage too – in particular one film called ‘Holidays at Home’ made just after world war two. A park full of people ballroom dancing on the open grass…children…servicemen and servicewomen in various uniforms; teenage girls; hopeful boys; dancing into night…laughing into the night. What amazing times; somewhat surreal and yet not that long ago; and yet long ago…and my video installation somehow needs to capture all of this mystery whilst being a coherent whole in its own right. Dancing into the night.



erm no actually John I don’t but I’m sure I can Google it (haven’t got sat nav). It’s a bit past Hartlepool towards Middlesborough then off into the wilds of Billingham. An odd land that Derek Jarman would probably have really liked. Part quaint village, part industrial backyard, it has a charm all of its own.

My plan was to film and photo John Hart’s original drum kit (he of the Hartbeats featured here previously). He still uses it for recordings and if you turn them over you can see the ’64 stamp inside the tom toms.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the location. The front lawn was freshly mown; not big but big enough to assemble the kit and for me to whiz around, doing a 360, with various cameras.

But John’s house is the first one on the street and overlooks a wide open expanse of fields – dominated by electricity pylons in the foreground with the Teesside Billingham chemical plants in the distance. It’s a real bonus I hadn’t expected. A surreal – yet typically ‘real’ backdrop to show off the Slingerland ’64 kit in all its glory. He tells me that up until last year there was a chemical factory at the end of his street… but now there is just stubble from the freshly mown fields. Growth and decay are necessarily themes in this piece and it fits nicely.

He’s keen to play me a track he and his musical partner Roland have been working on. By his own admission it’s the first ‘Pop’ song they have ever recorded.

“Strange” I proffer, “for a band that was working professionally for all those years?”

“Well we only did rock and roll, and covers” says John.

Some things never change they just mutate into ever more hideous forms. I muse this thought as I am reminded by the sticker on John’s drum kit. Yes it’s a scary graphic that looks like it might have been concocted by Jeff Koons.

‘New Faces’ says the spooky busker graphic. The Hartbeat boys were on that tv show fronted by a producer guy called Micky Most and, apparently, Arthur Askey (I had to Google that to confirm since it seems an incredulous mix). A 70’s talent show you could be forgiven for not knowing about; it and similar others to follow, were the forerunners of the monster that became X-factor. What an odd mix.. Micky Most the cheesy but cool (ish) equivalent of say Louis Walsh… and Arthur Askey the equivalent of well… any ‘national treasure’ old time vaudeville act you may care to name.

Prime time TV still hankers after similar combinations in order to catch the maximum audience demographic. Same formula; new faces = old faces.

We chat in John’s hall and another theme emerges; that of the foot pedal and the ‘encapsulation of sound’. It’s interesting because the foot pedal can be seen as a time machine in its own right. In the 60’s an AC30 amplifier for instance had a volume knob, a tone knob and a tremolo knob. That was it. I was under the impression that there was a reason for this – that it got used quite a bit. John reckons you didn’t really use tremolo unless you wanted to sound like Jim Reeves, which was a somewhat partial and dubious ambition for early rock and rollers.

But then all the PEDALS came out. The fuzz box, the wah pedal, the sustain pedal etc. etc.

“I tried a Jimi Hendrix pedal” says John

“It was amazing, but after a while you start thinking… Hendrix didn’t have a Jimi Hendrix soundalike foot pedal – he just made that sound up himself”.

I agree. Hendrix arrived at his sound, his style and approach to playing, via a personal history that included playing in BigBand type setups when he was younger and evolving his technique through experimentation and the desire to break moulds and push boundaries.

Buying a pedal to emulate his sound is like buying a silver bullet ride though history, travelling so fast that you miss the scenery along the way and well…in that case… miss the point!



What it is to be human. Life is such a weird thing and I am aware that my own personal creative drive has been fuelled by the need to make sense of it; coupled with a need to confront the absurd nature of life itself.

It may be no use to you when you leave this planet, but that isn’t the point. Art makes life worth living. Art galleries to me are spiritual places. Art is the nearest I get to understanding religion. I don’t say that for effect, and it’s not a manifesto statement; for me it’s just a fact. It’s quite apt that my show next year will be in a former church.

That said, my namesake passing away gave me cause to consider my mortality. You have to say he was one hell of an understated achiever and regardless of whether you think it was a waste of time landing on that lump of cheese, it still stands out as one giant something or other. I think of it a bit like public sculpture… a hopeful statement, overshadowed by the enormity of the surroundings.

Another recent demise, that of the film director Tony Scott, had me doing a double take. I’m guessing he jumped off the Los Angeles bridge in a disturbed state of mind and it’s probably not worth trying to find too much logic in that one.

Spookily though, the day before he jumped I was watching his brother Ridley’s first film ‘Boy and Bicycle’. Shot with a 16mm Bolex in black and white, it features his younger brother Tony riding along the coast and through Hartlepool on his bike. The landscape is 1965 industrial down-at-heel chic. Factories, sweeping vistas of industrial desert, offset by the poetry of the north east seaside coastline and the backdrop of billowing factories across the bay in Middleborough. Evocative stuff and chic tho it may be now, it was the reality of Hartlepool in the sixties.

Tony on his bicycle… so much to come for the two Scott brothers who first studied at the local college and went on to such fame. It’s a great film, helped enormously by the soundtrack by John Barry. Scott apparently wanted to use a track by the composer called “Onward Christian Spacemen”, which Barry re-recorded for the film. Weird link I thought… all things considered.

I had to pick up a photo of the Rink in Seaton Carew, which is where some of Boy and Bicycle was filmed, and had arranged to go to the Northern Film archives in Teesside University on Tuesday so took a detour off the A19 and along the coast to pick up the photo. From there it is an ‘interesting’ run to Middleborough through a landscape reminiscent of Blade Runner and, if you are of a mind, you can traverse the river Tees at its widest point by taking the transporter bridge. It’s a massive statement on the horizon, but also a little mad, because you are actually suspended on a cradle (or pagoda) under this huge structure, and hover not far above the river itself. I’m thinking it made more sense when lots more people would have been crossing to get to and from work with their bicycles. As it is, you don’t get many cars on it for all that superstructure. We drove down for a historic bridge experience.

Oh well… ‘sorry’ the sign said, ‘the bridge isn’t open today.’

The nice people at the archive questioned me about my project. I think they finally came to an understanding of what I am doing and why a two year license to use their archive material wouldn’t be any use to me. Apparently they’ve had a Turner prize nominee with just the same problem. No nomination for me (I’m too old anyway ha ha) but we shared that problem, so now the problem is halved.

I had a very pleasant few hours winding film backwards and forwards through the gate and it took me back to the days when I too used a Bolex cine camera. I still have it actually. Real film really is quite something.