You’d struggle to find a more top drawer example of Geordie talent, kindness and spirit than what was going on inside Newcastle City Hall yesterday.
Turning their back on traditional day of rest pastimes, such as a lie in, big lunch and afternoon snooze, a cast comprising (take a breath): Tim Healy, Denise Welch, Kevin Whately, Jill and Chelsea Halfpenny, Brendan Healy, Billy Mitchell, Jason Cook, Charlie Hardwick, Angie Lonsdale, Joe Caffrey, Chris Ramsey, Simon Donald (of Viz fame), Julie ‘Brenda’ Tobin, Lesley Saint John, Ray Stubbs, Steve Womak, Pete Scott, Laura Norton, Peter Peverley, Christopher Fairbank, Tom Mitchell, Charlie ‘Jim McDonald’ Lawson, Lorraine Crosby, Jeff Brown, Pam Royle, Ray Laidlaw, Glenn McCrory (yes, it was him under that Roman helmet), Brendan Foster, Scarlet Street, the SFS house band, Immy Williams and the Kids from Sage worked their socks off for two sell out audiences.
It was that Sunday for Sammy (SFS) time again – the biennial gathering of the region’s entertainment crop who come together to put on a great show and raise funds for the next generation of North East performing arts talent in the name of their friend and fellow performer, Sammy ‘Ronnie’ Johnson, who died suddenly aged just 49, in 1998.
It seemed appropriate to give you a full who’s who of the bill (hoping against hope I haven’t forgotten anyone), who spent the weekend putting together and rehearsing a three-hour-long Geordie-soaked feast of music and comedy... before performing it. Twice. A name check was the least they deserved.
It was tiring enough keeping up with the clap-alongs. As regular SFS goers will have been expecting, the entertainment included a custom-written Auf Wiedersehen Pet saga (The Waaaall, part two), a string of comedy sketches, including a spoof of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – coming live from Kielder Forest; a potty-mouthed Emmerdale spin off; and a radio play, Bobby Elliot from the Alnwick Radio Stage Ensemble (you do the acronym) about a young lad who ditches his dance lessons to pursue his dream of going down the pit.
We were also treated to a march of stand up comedy, from veterans Brendan Healy and Steve Womak as well as a triumphant SFS return from Jason Cook, the writer of BBC2 comedy Hebburn, who was given a grant and a slot on the bill 10 years ago when he was starting out. Money certainly well granted.
Music wise, Billy Mitchell led the stellar house band in their opening song, Let’s Have a Party and many more besides. Meanwhile the Halfpenny family certainly did their bit as did Ray Stubbs and Pete Scott, whose song about unwanted emails was nothing short of inspired.
This was the eighth such duo of concerts which, together with the sales of the resulting DVD, raise money for aspiring young performers who need a ‘leg up’. Since the last SFS alone, more than £50,000 has been distributed, with one of the beneficiaries, singer/songwriter Immy Williams leaving the audience in no doubt of the added value of their ticket price.
As we left the matinee, still singing The Blaydon Races finale and picking black and white confetti out of our hair, an emotional Tim encouraged everyone to extend their generosity a little further to a collection for the ongoing care and rehabilitation of acclaimed actor and longtime Sunday for Sammy Supporter, Dave Whittaker, who suffered a devastating stroke in 2012 and needs help to pay for his ongoing therapy.
I wouldn’t mind betting the buckets were overflowing by the time the curtain came down.