Stars shine at Sunday for Sammy gig

A BURST of Local Heroism brought the house down at Newcastle City Hall last night as the Sunday For Sammy concerts thrilled a pair of sell out crowds.

Tim Healy, Sunday for Sammy

A BURST of Local Heroism brought the house down at Newcastle City Hall last night as the Sunday For Sammy concerts thrilled a pair of sell out crowds.

Rumours and speculation are always rife as the biennial charity gigs approach, as to who will be present and correct on the surprise guest list. Previous years have seen the likes of AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson, Ant and Dec and Timothy Spall being revealed to a rapturous welcome.

And the gasps and cheers which went up yesterday as Newcastle-bred Mark Knopfler made his first appearance on stage, seemed to suggest that actor Tim Healy and his fellow concert organisers had managed to keep the big secret just that.

Not only that, but the former Dire Straits frontman had even more surprises up his sleeve... who knew he had a knack for comedy?

Knopfler, as he was referred to by the cast, was the anchor of the three-hour show’s running joke.

On he would come, belt out around 30 seconds of one of his most well-known tracks – Money For Nothing, Sultans of Swing and Walk of Life all featured – before being thrown off the stage by a variety of North East celebrities. Tim, his actress wife Denise Welch and footballing legend, Alan Shearer (who appeared via a pre-recorded segment on the giant 40ft screen which flanked the stage) all took their turns to dismiss his tuneful efforts, before telling him to: "play your hit, man".

After the third telling-off, he thrilled every Geordie in the place by belting out the anthemic Local Hero with the help of the accomplished North East-soaked house band behind him.

Anyone in the crowd who didn’t feel the hairs on the back of their neck go funny when that saxophone kicked in should really see a doctor this morning.

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Aside from the obligatory Run For Home finale (which also never fails to invoke the warm and fuzzy feelings), Local Hero provided the last element of a show which has to go down as one of the best in 10 years of Sunday For Sammy.

A pair of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet sketches, written by the show’s writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (who had flown in from Los Angeles), and starring Tim as Dennis, Kevin Whately as Neville, Christopher Fairbank as Moxy and Brendan Healy making a guest appearance as the Colonel, went down a storm.

The inclusion of Timothy Spall via satellite, actress Julia Tobin, who played Neville’s other half Brenda in the TV series, and former Corrie star Kevin Kennedy in the two-part story, which was set in Colditz and involved an unspeakable prosthetic, were also welcomed with open applause.

Then we had the return of the Slack Lasses... translating to an hilarious late-night version of Loose Women, starring Denise, fellow loose woman Andrea McLean, actresses Angie Lonsdale and  Gaynor Faye and North East news presenter Pam Royle. It was particularly impressive when you consider the sketch’s main lady, Charlie Hardwick, had been forced to pull out at the 11th hour due to gastric flu.

Other very funny comedy turns came from the multi-talented Brendan Healy (who also took his place in the house band) and performance poet Kate Fox.

Music was provided in rocking fashion from the band (including North East legends like Billy Mitchell, Ray Laidlaw, Ray Stubbs and John Hedley), veteran blues outfit, the Junco Partners, the aforementioned ‘Knopfler’, the wonderful Kathryn Tickell and a group of young performers who have benefited from grants awarded from the Sammy Johnson Memorial Fund, established in the name of the late actor who inspired the gigs following his untimely and sudden death in 1998.

All in all, the matinee and evening shows resulted in another triumph for the North East entertainment contingent, as well as the fund, which will have gone up by around £50,000 this morning.

In addition, the whole afternoon and evening was filmed for a forthcoming DVD, which will also add thousands to the fund, ensuring that the next generation of the region’s performers can continue to benefit for many years to come.

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