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From Walbottle to Amarillo

This is the Geordie musician who has been catapulted to fame alongside crooner Tony Christie.

Tony Christie, Stuart Collingwood

This is the Geordie musician who has been catapulted to fame alongside crooner Tony Christie.

Keyboard player Stuart Collingwood was back on home turf alongside Christie at Whitley Bay Playhouse yesterday.

Christie, 61, hit the top of the UK singles chart with (Is This The Way To) Amarillo for the fourth week in a row.

He was also number one in the album chart for two weeks with his Definitive Collection.

Amarillo was at number one after being revived by comedian Peter Kay and re-released for Comic Relief.

Christie has since been offered the freedom of the city of Amarillo in Texas, as well as a cameo in the television soap Emmerdale.

Stuart, 46, first met the singer 15 years ago through contacts and ended up joining him for gigs in nightclubs and theatres.

Christie then went on to work on the Continent and spent time in Spain, while Stuart worked on cruise ships for P&O. They met again in October last year and went on a UK tour.

Stuart is now playing the keyboard and piano in the 12-piece Tony Christie Orchestra.

The musician, who lives in north Walbottle, Newcastle, said: "It's been very exciting. It's going really well for us.

"The shows are getting fantastic applause. Amarillo has gone down a storm and we have been packing houses.

"The atmosphere is great during shows. Tony has fans right from young children to the older generation and they all sit and enjoy themselves.

"It's quite a high to be playing on stage and very different from being in nightclubs."

Born in Benwell, Stuart started playing the electronic keyboard when he was 10. He was encouraged by his mum, who herself always wanted to learn how to play the instrument.

He went to Walbottle Campus and later gained a diploma in light music from what was then the College of Arts and Technology in Rye Hill, Newcastle.

He started working at the Mayfair ballroom, where The Gate complex now is, before working on cruise ships. It was on a ship from Miami to the Bahamas that he met his wife Phoebe.

They married in 1993 and Phoebe, originally from California, moved to Newcastle. They have a nine-year-old daughter Chalon.

He added: "My family were at Whitley Bay Playhouse to see me. It was great being back in the North East.

"I am enjoying what I'm doing and am pleased with the way my career is going."

Showing the way to work the crowd

The Playhouse has a poster in the bar saying "are you 18? Please show ID".

There were surely no such worries at last night's Tony Christie concert as most of the audience were about the same age as the smooth singer.

The concert began with a half hour set from Carolynne Good. The Fame Academy star sang her own composition Insane as well as numerous covers including the sad I Can't Make You Love Me.

Tony finally arrived on stage to a warm but polite reception. Songs included On Broadway, Most Beautiful Girl, Las Vegas and then, as promised, Carolynne returned to duet on A Whole New World.

Afterwards came a Rat Pack tribute. Not very original but Tony managed to perform songs such as Mr Bojangles with more panache than Robbie or Westlife could ever hope for, and I've Got You Under My Skin was done in style. I Did What I Did For Maria and Don't Go Down To Reno were followed by a Beatles medley.

Hey Jude was an attempt to get the crowd involved but they were rather restrained throughout the show, until Is This The Way To Amarillo? which finally got people clapping and singing along.

Big-voiced Tony and his band certainly know how to work an audience. The crowd may have been quiet but they enjoyed themselves.

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