Kate Fox: Isn't it time we launched the Shipyard Chic into the sunset?

Journal columnist and poet Kate Fox says the North East is in danger of being held back by misplaced nostalgia for a vanished past

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP Sting appears at the curtain call following his debut performance in Broadway's "The Last Ship" on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014 in New York
Sting appears at the curtain call following his debut performance in Broadway's "The Last Ship" on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014 in New York

When I started doing poems in North East pubs, I noticed there were lots of singer songwriters, poets and comedians who popped up on bills and were as good, or better, than artists who were already nationally famous.

From Sarah Millican to Simma, Beccy Owen to Chris Ramsey, Scott Tyrrell to Richard Dawson and Nev Clay to Jason Cook. Some of those names you will know, some of them you won’t.

Due to interesting combinations of personal circumstances, luck, prevailing cultural climates and and randomness, the North East’s sons and daughters either stay on local stages or move to national ones.

I worry that fewer and fewer will make the journey, even to the local stages, as it gets harder for acts without silver spoons in their gobs to have the time and space to break through.

But experimental folk singer Richard Dawson has had an interesting trajectory. After many years being, as far as I could tell, a genius undiscovered outside the North East, he’s recently been rising to prominence and was recently on the cover of influential music magazine “The Wire”.

The Guardian recently gave his album “Nothing important” five stars and said time will tell if it’s a masterpiece or a fraud.

He has also become that rare beast of somebody with a national platform criticising the North East’s focus on a certain type of Geordie heritage culture which still dominates outsiders perceptions of the area.

He calls Sting’s musical “The Last Ship” “bile making” and says arts money is put into projects which supposedly celebrate Newcastle and are full of overplayed, cod Geordie accents.

I agree that the region can be held back by this “Shipyard Chic” which is fuelled by a misplaced nostalgia from exiles from the region (some of the exiles have moved away from the region, some of them still live here but are cut off from all that makes it modern and interesting).

How to spot arts projects making use of Shipyard Chic? Easy. There’ll be shipping containers somewhere obviously, more blokes than women (the women visible or mentioned will probably be wearing headscarves), Sting or an Auf Weidersehen Pet cast member and brave people battling cruel bosses.

It is very important when purveying Shipyard Chic that you don’t mention any forces battled by contemporary North Easterners such as ATOS, benefit sanctions or massive North-South council inequalities.

I would have come up with spoof titles of songs that could be included in Shipyard Chic projects but my first attempt “We’ve Got Nowt” turns out to be an actual song in “The Last Ship”.

In ending my last column of 2014 I note that endings have been problematic in what has otherwise been a vintage year for British telly. From Broadchurch to Line of Duty, An Honourable Woman to The Missing and The Fall, there has usually been at least one gripping series on the go.

In the past week both the last two have disappointed with their finales. I don’t mind a bit of ambiguity myself, but I’d rather spend the day after discussing how brilliant it was with people, than hear their howls of anguish about being cheated out of a proper climax.

So - notes for drama producers in 2015:

1. If there is a dead body, tell us who made them dead, how and why.

2. If there’s a really horrible person, make sure they’re miserable at the end.

3. If there’s a nice person, make sure they’re happy at the end.

4. Never, ever, under any circumstances reveal that it was “all a dream”.

Simple. Though actually, that sounds really boring. We know that life doesn’t wrap things up neatly like that, otherwise, come May 2015, Nick Clegg will have accidentally maimed David Cameron in a pheasant-beating incident, Nigel Farage will drown in a vat of chow mein and Ed Miliband will give it all up to become a pig farmer.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer