On the Toon…My night at the inaugural Tyne and Wear Lifestyle Awards

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Last week saw the people behind the North East’s best businesses mix with the beautiful people of television, and the odd celebrity guest, as the first ever Tyne and Wear Lifestyle Awards took place.

Newcastle’s Discovery Museum proved a beautiful venue for the great and the good to assemble as prizes in categories like Best Bar, Best Fashion Retailer and Best Live Experience were handed out. And as special guest, pop star Sinitta, said, it was the perfect opportunity to find out just where you can get the best cup of coffee in the North East, where you should be checking in for the night and where you should be getting your hair did!

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(The grand Discovery Museum, our venue for the night)

The Lifestyle Awards is the brain child of PR guru Jason Gale, who was in attendance on the night along with his partner Sinitta. After public voting, a panel decided on the eventual winners.

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(Me and special guest Sinitta)

As an awards do newbie, I was grateful and relieved to be introduced to a fellow blogger on arrival. Also riding solo, Pixie Tenenbaum (below) a fashionista I had heard lots about through mutual friends, became my date whether she liked it or not. After posing on the red carpet and grabbing a complementary glass of fizz, we were frantically pulled aside by the lovely Hazel Pude and Melissa Crawford from The Lowdown, Made in Tyne and Wear’s hit TV show, for a live interview. We ended up having a ball together – our table was a mix of Made TV talent, PR and the lovely Donna Petch, who is behind the marketing powerhouse The North East Hub. We dined on a delicious three courses, ranging from a Geordie delicacy with a twist (ham hock terrine with a peas pudding sauce and fresh stottie) to corn-fed chicken supreme with gratin dauphinoise to a Sicilian lemon tart with macerated berries and cream. All superb.

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(Fashion blogger Pixie Tenenbaum)

Entertainment was provided by The Mimic Men, an impressionist double act last seen storming Britain’s Got Talent, and the rowdy room was kept in check (just!) by hosts from Made in Tyne and Wear, Peter Darrant, and the lovely Hazel and Mel (below).

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(Hosts Hazel Pude and Melissa Crawford from The Lowdown)

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(Two of the winners of the night – Mister Woods took home Best Coffee Shop)

It was wonderful to see the eclectic mix of talent our region has and lovely to not only recognize a lot of the winning faces but also make new friends. It is events like this that really shine a spotlight on regional businesses and let the rest of the country know what we already do; that the North East is a truly unique place to live.

A big thank you to lovely Fran from Made TV for the invitation and looking after us and the rest of the team for helping pull off a fantastic event. Sore heads all round the morning after, no doubt. Looking forward to the next one.

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The full list of winners:

Best Coffee Shop – Mister Woods

Best Pub – City Tavern

Best Fashion Retailer – Have To Love

Best Hair and Beauty – Patrick Forster Barber and Shop

Best Hotel – Malmaison

Best Bar – The Botanist

Best Cultural Attraction – National Glass Centre

Best Restaurant – River Beat

Best Club – House of Smith

Best Fitness Facility – Model Health

Best Live Experience – Great North Run

Legend Award – Colin Burgin-Plews (Big Pink Dress)

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REVIEW: George’s Great British Kitchen – “a refined and dynamic twist on the traditional”

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When the multi-million pound Grey’s Quarter investment was announced as an addition to Newcastle’s Eldon Square, I was both intrigued and apprehensive. Did the city really need more generic chain restaurants? Or would it be all pulled pork and hipster craft beers? These feelings turned to excitement and BIG, BOISTEROUS hunger pains when I discovered George’s Great British Kitchen would be one of the eateries holding (food) court in the new development.

Although the second opening (after their successful Nottingham venture) I had never heard of George’s. My excitement was merely the result of looking at their quirky online website and traditional-cum-contemporary menu.

Things got off to a great start with Pigs Under Duvets; an update on the festive favourite complete with bubble and squeak mash and honey mustard, and George’s posh take on a scotch egg, perfectly cooked inside with a side of piccalilli.

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I plumped for the Geordie Saveloy Pie – layers of saveloy sausage, mushy peas, pork-sage and onion stuffing with homemade onion gravy, encased in pastry. The pie is topped caramelised onion crumble and served with Newcastle Brown Ale salt, mouth-wateringly good, twice-cooked chips and more gravy. This dish is exclusive to the Newcastle restaurant and by god did it make this Geordie lad happy. Moreish AND satisfying – a funny combo, but this is a funny place. I certainly didn’t bet on saveloy ever being a dinner favourite outside of Dickson’s but it just works so well. We also had the “Proper Dirty” double burger, which is chuck and brisket, grilled in the Inka with red leicester and a ‘frickle’ – a fried pickle. Served pink, the meat was to die for. Far from being proper dirty, it was heavenly.

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Desserts range from the kooky (doughnuts with chocolate dipping sauce and candy floss) to more traditional fare like orange tarts and apple pies. Too full to indulge, we passed – not an easy choice when giant puffs of floss are floating by your table all night. Next time…

The food is rich and homely, but by no means amateur. George’s puts a refined and dynamic twist on favourites like pie and mash and chippy teas but delivers them in a sophisticated way that doesn’t feel like a bearded hipster knocked it up and served it on a slate or in a watering can.

Like any new restaurant, the place was frantic. In stark contrast to the serene décor of quaint seaside life, the buzz of the new business’ opening week didn’t let up all night – although this didn’t affect the service. Staff were attentive and positively charming (shout out to our waitress Jayne, who was a gem) throughout the night and gave us the history of the place from its roots in Nottingham. The barman even recommended a different wine when our first choice wasn’t available.

I read a review recently that mused that food should do the talking, and that gimmicks in restaurants aren’t necessary. I loved the gimmicks here. Plush cod toys and bowler hats adorned every free table top and booths are named after seaside favs like Whitley Bay and Amble. Chandeliers hang harmoniously with shabby-chic railings and wooden fixtures, without any of it feeling forced: It so easily have come off pretentious. My favourite aesthetic is the menus in the style of newspapers – a lovely touch of nostalgia.

This place could be a reviewer’s dream; plenty of fodder for the Instagram generation, with props and selfie opportunities galore. But it’s far from a case of style over substance – as the Pub Landlord might say, beautiful British food from a beautiful British name, George’s kitchen is well and truly open and I’ve got a feeling I’ll be going back for seconds.

George’s Great British Kitchen is part of the new Grey’s Quarter development in Eldon Square. To book a table, call 0191 230 4229 or visit their website here 

WATCH: Coxhoe’s Sam Lavery takes on James Arthur in week one of The X Factor

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She’s the local girl with the big voice, a voice which has taken her all the way to the live finals of the biggest singing competition in the country. And tonight, Sam Lavery, from County Durham, sailed through to the next round with her rendition of a former winner’s single.

The 17-year-old performed Impossible, which was originally released by US singer Shontelle, but was a number one hit for James Arthur, who won the show in 2012.

Her performance was praised by all of the jobs, with her mentor Simon telling the audience that she had huge potential as an artist.

Brattavio were booted off the show, after landing in the sing-off against Finnish diva Saara Alto. They’re version of The Only Way Is Up by Yazz wasn’t enough to beat Alto’s belting take on Sia’s Alive. Next week will see the 10 remaining acts tackle the songs of Motown.

Watch Sam’s performance below:

The X Factor returns next Saturday at 8pm on ITV1.

Photo: ITV X Factor

Solange: Why new album A Seat at the Table should see her taking her rightful seat in the music industry

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It’s hard to make your mark on an industry so undeniably dominated by your relative. Just ask 3T, the boyish trio consisting of Michael Jackson’s nephews, or Kylie’s younger sister Dannii. Even Daniel Bedingfield, who came to the fore years before little sister Natasha, saw his star outshined when she came trotting out to the sound of delicious noughties pop hits like These Words and Unwritten.

Solange Knowles, younger sibling of Beyonce, has shoehorned a lot into her young life: she soundtracked a Disney Channel series (The Proud Family), acted in the direct-to-video cheerleading film Bring It On: All or Nothing, co-founded fashion label House of Dereon and has released three albums dabbling in genres from the retro Motown-inspired to ultra-modern neo soul.

She hasn’t produced a pop banger or anthem for the masses, though – although arguably should have. 2013’s Losing You was a seminal moment. Slick and stylish, the song heralded a new, mature direction for Solange. She famously performed the track at Coachella where she was joined for an impromptu dance-off with her big sis. The song came accompanied with a stunning music video which saw her traipsing around Jamaica in a variety of high-fashion ensembles and was part of a modern, neo-soul movement that also showcased the talents of  Miguel and Frank Ocean.

INDIO, CA - APRIL 12:  Singer Beyonce (L) performs with her sister Solange onstage during day 2 of the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 12, 2014 in Indio, California.  (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella)

INDIO, CA – APRIL 12: Singer Beyonce (L) performs with her sister Solange onstage during day 2 of the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 12, 2014 in Indio, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella)

Does new long player, A Seat at the Table, feature her long-awaited smash hit? No – nor does it attempt to. But it does have a lot to say. Covering issues as serious, and more relevant than ever, as feminism, racism and most prominently the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Solange has a strong political voice. It features interludes from US rapper Master P, as well Solange’s mother, Tina, who delivers an empowering statement on being proud to be black. Such interludes make the album feel like more of a conversation with melodies, than a record. It should be listened to as a whole piece, rather than track-by-track, as it is thematically unified. Chronicling the modern struggles facing black women, it not only touches on the recent tragedies of police brutality against the black community, but also the history of violence directed towards Knowles’ ancestors.

Opener Rise is a striking jazz number that shows the beauty of her voice, and Don’t Touch My Hair specifically confronts the way black women are devalued in society, whilst Cranes in the Sky unashamedly documents her self-coping mechanisms like drinking and sex:

“I tried to keep myself busy/ I ran around in circles/Think I made myself dizzy/I slept it away, I sexed it away”

Where Do We Go and Weary are also favourites of mine. More up-tempo than the others, the latter features lyrics about really trying to find your place and make a mark on the world. Scales is the highlight; a duet with Kelela, it is a critique on those who hold superficial things in higher regard than spirituality:

“And that armor in your mouth/You’re gonna shine/ Your wrist talking/ Boy, it’s only time”

The thing that makes the album so special is how it interlinks throughout. The aforementioned interludes really do paint a beautifully poignant portrait. It is spiritual, sensual, mature and artistically coherent, and demands those listening to be confident and true to themselves. There is little more a modern R&B album should be.

She’s had more column inches in recent years for her elevator antics, where she (literally) laid into brother-in-law Jay-Z at the Met Gala in 2014 and the subsequent photos that followed appearing to show them playing happy hip hop families again.

But it’s time we listened to the music. And not only that, it’s about damn time Solange received the high praise from the masses said music warrants. Ignoring her contemporaries’ penchant for sex, bottle poppin’ and being ‘drunk in love’, she could be one of the most relevant pop stars singing today. Take your seat, Ms Knowles – you’ve earned it.

A Seat at the Table is out now.

Watch the video for Don’t Touch My Hair below:

Watch the singer’s songwriting process and the sessions that shaped her new album below:

Images: solangeknowlesmusic/Youtube

WATCH: Amber Riley belts out And I Am Telling You ahead of West End debut in Dreamgirls

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She wowed us in Glee and went on to win Dancing With The Stars. And theatre audiences were delighted when it was announced that Amber Riley would be taking the powerhouse role of Effie White in the upcoming London production of Dreamgirls.

The actress appeared on Graham Norton last night for an exclusive performance of the musical’s show-stopping number, And I Am Telling You, and NAILED it. She had previously sang the song on Glee but this was the first time since announcing her role in Dreamgirls – it was literally hold-your-breath-until-she’s-finished stuff. She also joined Danny Devito, Ewan McGregor, John Bishop, Sam Neill and Miranda Hart on the chat show host’s sofa.

The musical, which has never been staged in the West End before, opens at the Savoy Theatre November 19 and is booking until March 2017. It tells the fictional story of ’60s girl group The Dreams and their rise to stardom. Effie is Riley’s first theatre role, where she will star alongside Liisi Lafontaine as Deena Jones and Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell Robinson.

Watch the performance below:

REVIEW: One Man, Two Guvnors – “a breathless, dizzying romp – Truly laugh-out-loud stuff”

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As a theatregoer, there’s nothing quite like being part of a riotous audience united in joyous laughter. And lucky for me, that was exactly my experience at David Downing’s newest production at the People’s Theatre.

 
It’s easy to see why the play has been such a hit in its relatively short history (it’s only a few years old, premiering in London in 2011.) Packed with laughs and physical japes, it really is laugh-out-loud stuff. The plot is based on Carlo Goldini’s Italian play Servant Of Two Masters, and see Francis Henshall, starving and desperate for money (to alleviate that hunger) bag jobs with two dodgy employers. What follows is a breathless, dizzying romp that sees Henshall try everything in his power to get paid, all whilst keeping his two bosses away from each other.
It is set in 1963 and uses a skiffle band to set the seaside scene. It’s all Brighton beach, the Beatles and the radical idea that a “pub that sells food” is part of a bright new future in England and that the worst thing that could happen to a man would be to emigrate to Australia. This allows for spate of hilariously non-PC one-liners that the abject horror that awaits ex-pats in Oz is all “BBQs, lager and opera.”

 
Richard Gardner is nothing short of phenomenal in the role of Henshall. It’s a part he has played before – at the Queen’s Hall Theatre Club – and it’s clear it’s one he revels in. It would fall flat in the hands of a lesser performer but here, thankfully, it does not. Not only a master of physical comedy, he radiates star quality. Remember this name.

 

His comedic sparring partner Jake Wilson Craw as the cringey toff Stubbers must also be mentioned. The perfect antidote to Gardner’s slapstick, Craw gets most of the dry one-liners (“My clothes stink. I smell like a doctor’s finger”) and gives a meticulous turn in stick-up-the-arse acting, all the more funny because people like Stubbers actually still exist. Amy Herdman as Crabbe and Emma Jane Richards as Pauline are wonderful – I loved Herdman in a previous production of Jumpy at the same theatre and was pleased to see she was on form again here.
My favourite performance though, apart from Gardner’s star turn, was Nathan Hussain’s over-the-top amateur actor, Alan Dangle. A ridiculous parody of a luvvie, Hussain is camp, confident and actually, at times, moving as a man who is half hot-headed lothario and half wannabe Richard Burton.

 
At one point I found myself as a member of the cast – the farcical nature of the show allows for audience participation and saw me and another man stretching on stage and attempting to help carry a ‘heavy’ trunk off stage. Another girl took part in a dizzying skit which saw her almost perish in a rogue crepe suzette accident. All funny stuff.

 

This is the best production I’ve seen at the People’s Theatre by a mile and makes me genuinely intrigued to see how they can top it with future productions. A truly outstanding job by all involved – and no, I ain’t ‘avin a bubble.

One Man, Two Guvnors is running until Saturday October 8. For tickets or more information call the box office on 0191 265 5020 or click here.

Spotlight: Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors at the People’s Theatre

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It’s won awards across the world and has been lauded by critics and theatregoers alike since it’s debut in 2011, now One Man, Two Guvnors is the latest play to be staged at Newcastle’s People’s Theatre.

Richard Bean’s end-of-the-pier twist on Servant Of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, One Man, Two Guvnors is a slapstick farce; it sees Goldoni’s original setting of Venice changed to 1960s England and sees Cocky wide-boy Francis Henshall legs it to Brighton when he’s sacked from his skiffle band. Starving and desperate for money, he’s got jobs with two very dodgy underworld bosses. Things should be fine as long as they don’t find out about each other, right?

The play opened at the National Theatre in 2011, before West End and Broadway runs. James Corden won the Tony award for Best Actor in a Play for his Broadway performance.

Richard Gardner (pictured) stars as Francis, the role made famous by Corden.

This is not Richard’s first time as the hapless chancer, though, having played the part earlier this year with the Queen’s Hall Theatre Club. The Hexham Courant hailed him as “the star of the show”.

When the opportunity came up to audition for this production, he jumped at it. “I wasn’t ready to retire Francis,” Richard said. “It’s the role of a lifetime.”

This is Richard’s first play with the People’s and he is enjoying every moment.

“The rehearsal process has been an absolute joy. The People’s works to such a high standard and the members have all been so friendly and welcoming. I’m excited to be given the chance to develop the character further and take it to the stage with new vigour.”

This production is the second in the theatre’s new season, following on their successful production of Grimm Tales. Also booking this season is Jack and the Beanstalk, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Alan Bennett’s The Lady In The Van, amongst others.

Tickets start at £11 and can be booked via the People’s Theatre website or by calling their box office. The theatre is currently undergoing a million pound redevelopment, which will feature a new foyer bar, gallery and box office.

For more information and to book tickets, click here or call the box office on 0191 265 5020