By Norman Warwick
Almost twenty years ago poet and writer Robin Parker (right) and I decided we would like to voluntarily deliver a free all across the arts page for The Rochdale Observer. We made the initial approach to the editor, Gerry Salmon, and had a meeting with this man who has gone on to become an author of adventure novels. Gerry detailed the appropriate word counts, deadlines and formats and we proposed the name of all across the arts. We felt this was a cover-all title for a creative writing course Robin and I were running with Falinge Park High School students. Over the course of thirteen weeks eight students worked with Robin and I to create news, interviews, previews and reviews of cinema, theatre, computer games and live concerts etc.. These students also learned how to manage a working calendar, deliver copy on time and to the precise length required.
They were a great team of teenagers and it was amazing to see their confidence grow so much that they were very soon arranging their own strap lines and taking great pride in positively representing their local area, not only in the print media but even on community radio as well as BBC Radio Manchester,
The end of the course coincided with them moving into higher education and Robin and I were effectively left with no outlet for our own stories, However The Rochdale Observer was part of The Manchester Evening News Media Group, that included twenty or so other local papers from Greater Manchester. These included The Heywood Advertiser and The Middleton Guardian, both of which are part of the Rochdale MBC.
Suddenly, we had four pages a week to produce for free, With The Rochdale Observer being published every Tuesday and Friday and of course being Rochdale centric, it required two pages. With Robin living right in the town centre of Rochdale, and being a former Mayor of the town with lots of contacts, and a man who loved arts in different genres and in a different way to how I loved the arts, it made sense for Robin to deliver the Observer pages.
I lived in Heywood which bordered Middleton and I had done a lot of work in those towns as a peripatetic community artist and facilitator so I took on the role of our pages for the Advertiser and for the Guardian.
We were also able to expand our contact list and were also able to place our stories or announce our news in journals like The Bury Times, The Oldham Chronicle and sometimes even The Manchester Evening News when appropriate.
We were story-led and we were both very proud of the pages we were producing for nothing. They were positive reflections of the arts scene in our area (s).
Unfortunately, Robin and I worked for a common purpose but in different ways and I am ashamed to say that although we were very much equal partners in terms of commitment and abilities I often over-acted as a senior partner and Robin finally left our working relationship in ´high dudgeon´ as Stanley Holloway might have stated it..
Over the next ten years I´d like to think Robin re-built the bridges he had burned and I tore down the statue-to-self I had sculpted in my mind and we eventually partnered up again in a number of initiatives like the regular poetry nights we called Those Bard From The Baum. Robin is now a busy and highly effective member of Langley Writers and enjoyed great success with his book The Edenfield Scrolls (left), a collection of humorously re-told bible stories that were then read as a cd appendage by dialect poet Sid Calderbank.
I was fortunate that Steve Cooke (right) came to sit behind the suddenly vacated all across the arts´ reporter´s desk. He and I had worked together in the past and I had always admired his commitment to the cause. We worked alongside each other at aata for several years before I left to retire here and launch Sidetracks And Detours as a blog.
The sad reality, though, is that things change. All of us who have worked in that region on the arts scene since the turn of the century have witnessed all sorts of changes. Readership of regional newspapers fell because of competition from web sites, blogs and television´s 24 hour rolling news services. As readerships dwindled it became increasingly difficult to attract advertisers and so revenue fell as costs rose. One of the few options publications could undertake to survive was to cut the number of pages published in their editions, as this obviously reduced production costs.
Whilst Steve Cooke and I were still working together as all across the arts we lost first the Middleton Guardian page and then The Heywood Advertiser page. This felt particularly pernicious to me as we knew our pages were appreciated by a wide circle of artists and arts lovers and I felt we could have attracted wider readership of all across the arts with less restrictive word counts, but of course the newspapers were still focussed on attracting as much advertising and7or varied copy on to any one as possible..
I remember thinking how odd it was that a newspaper should ask two unpaid, volunteer workers to include listings sections on our story-led pages. Collating a weekly section of listings for town´s or Rochdale´s magnitude was enormously time consuming and labour extensive. We already had news to write-up, books to preview, artists to interview artists to interviews and plays to review!
Steve Cooke has done a superb job of maintaining the all across the arts page. Over the last seven years he has surrounded himself with, and has enjoyed the support of, the great and the good of the Rochdale arts scene, with its revenue funded arts organisations, independent artists, theatres, galleries and pub venues. Poets Seamus Kelly and Eileen Earnshaw were regular contributors to his pages and he carried news from local groups like Touchstones cwg, Weaving Words, Langley Writers and followed the nomadic wanderings of Those Bard From The Baum to the Flying Horse and beyond, and Mr. Cooke maintained a synergy with Steve Bewick jazz radio presenter of Hot Biscuits.
All that diligence and hard work and connectivity, though, couldn´t prevent the inevitable.
Steve Cooke this week sent out a communication saying,
The AATA Column is going online-only other than the Rochdale-specific column in Rochdale Style Magazine.
So it seems as though the declining circulation and number of pages in The Rochdale Observer continue in decline and that staffing structures are being revised yet again.
There seems to no longer be a Rochdale Observer dedicated team within the Manchester Evening News Media Group.
Steve´s column appeared for the final time in the Rochdale Observer on Wednesday 5th April 2023. However, Steve´s shout-out remained positive.
In addition to our ever expanding global, online presence through our website and social media platforms the column now appears twice weekly on Reach’s InYourArea.
The new column will be expanded from the restrictions of 400 + 200 words & 1 image to ‘between 500 and 1000 words, with up to 4 photos, it should allow you some flexibility.’
I shall share links to each column with you and encourage you to share them with your interested contacts.
He admitted, of course, that the decision had a downside effect his column would lose those readers who still access their news etc. through local print outlets.
The notice from The Rochdale Observers sought to put the demise in a positive light by saying
‘Many thanks for your valuable contribution to InYourArea and the Rochdale Observer.
‘Due to changes in workflow, the team will now only be responsible for publishing on InYourArea.
We will continue to make it available for print teams to use, should they be able to, however print teams have informed us that it may no longer appear in their titles.
We will continue to send you the online links to your published columns.
Apologies for any inconvenience and we look forward to receiving your next column (for our on-line outlet).
As an example of the excellent work Steve Cooke has delivered over the years through a wide range of outlets, Sidetracks And Detours are proud to illustrate how well Steve regularly drew stories from his What´s On listings, as he did in that final print column.
WHAT’S ON: John Grant and Richard Hawley are set to appear at the Bolton Octagon (Image: Dan Sullivan)
JOHN GRANT sings the songs of Patsy Cline
with RICHARD HAWLEY and band
By Steve Cooke
One of the many events I am looking forward to at Manchester International Festival (MIF) 23 is John Grant Sings the Songs of Patsy Cline with Richard Hawley and his Band.
Two of the best live artists around will come together in celebration of a legendary country music star. Singer Patsy Cline paved the way for a thousand imitations – bridging pop and country with her unforgettable voice and star quality before her life was tragically cut short.
At the 2023 Manchester International Festival, a pair of modern-day icons, John Grant and Richard Hawley are taking on Patsy´s repertoire for the very first time: Known for his searing wit, tenderness and commanding stage presence, singer-songwriter John William Grant (born July 25, 1968) is an American singer, musician, and songwriter who holds both American and Icelandic citizenship.
He first became known as the co-founder, lead singer, pianist, and primary songwriter for the alternative rock band the Czars. After releasing six albums from 1994 to 2006, the band split up and Grant retired for four years before starting a solo career.
Grant’s debut solo album Queen of Denmark (2010) was named the best album of the year by Mojo, and his second album Pale Green Ghosts (2013) was named the best album of the year by Rough Trade. His third album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (2015) received widespread critical acclaim and peaked at No. 5 on the UK albums chart, while his fourth album Love Is Magic (2018) entered the top 20 in the UK. His fifth album Boy From Michigan (2021) also received acclaim. He also released the live album John Grant and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra: Live in Concert (2014), in which he performed songs from his first two albums while accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
Grant is also known for his collaborations with varied musicians like Love Affair, Budgie, Elbow, Goldfrapp, GusGus, Elton John, Midlake, Kylie Minogue, Sinéad O’Connor, Tracey Thorn, Hercules and Robbie Williams.
At MIF 2023 he lend his commanding vocals to proceedings, with Richard Hawley and his band – often considered one of the best live acts in the UK – delivering their their sumptuous live sound.
John Grant said: “Very excited to be singing the songs of Patsy Cline whose music and voice I’ve been a big fan of since the mid-80s when the movie Sweet Dreams came out. I’ve been singing those songs ever since and now I get to do that with one of my favourite singers and musicians, the incredible Richard Hawley, and his spectacular band. And I get to do all this in Manchester, one of the all-time great homes of music.”
Meanwhile, To celebrate the anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, a brand-new production of Lauren Gunderson’s award-winning comedy, The Book of Will, is coming to the Bolton Octagon in its European premiere.
With an award-winning cast and creative team this hilarious love letter to theatre is a co-production from Octagon Theatre Bolton, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, and Shakespeare North Playhouse.
Featuring a stellar company of 10 actors, including: Hollyoaks stars Jessica Ellis and Helen Pearson alongside Zach Lee (ITV’s Coronation Street, Emmerdale plus Bouncers, John Godber Company, A Christmas Carol, Hull Truck ); Tomi Ogbaro (Seagulls, Octagon Theatre Bolton, The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Theatre Royal Stratford, Jayne Eyre, Stephen Joseph Theatre and New Vic). They will be joined by Radio 4 favourite Carrie Quinlan (BBC Radio 4’s John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme, Orpheus Descending, Theatre Clwyd/Menier Chocolate Factory); Russell Richardson (ITV’s Coronation Street, Last Tango in Halifax plus A View From The Bridge, Hindle Wakes – Octagon Theatre Bolton); Callum Sim (ITV’s Emmerdale and Coronation Street) and Tarek Slater (The Jungle Book, Oldham Coliseum, Beauty and the Beast, the Dukes).
Completing the cast is star of stage and screen Bill Ward ((left, ITV’s Coronation Street, Emmerdale and BBC’s Eastenders plus UK tour of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, UK tour of Bath Theatre Royal’s Shakespeare in Love); and Andrew Whitehead (The Book Thief, Octagon Theatre Bolton, A Christmas Carol, Hull Truck).
I remember when Steve Cooke and I worked withBill to promote an exhibition of his excellent photography of landscapes, all solepsistic but all carrying the tension and drama of those solitary moments where nothing and everything happens as one.
Directed by the Octagon’s Artistic Director, Lotte Wakeham, The Book of Will tells the hilarious and moving story of the breath-taking race against time to gather all of Shakespeare’s works and save them for the ages. This wonderfully witty, funny, and fast-paced play tells the story of The King’s Men as they band together for a near-impossible plan – to collect all of Shakespeare’s plays and compile the First Folio. No easy feat, and what follows is a bonkers race against time through 1620s London.
The creative team includes Carla Goodman (designer); Simeon Miller (lighting designer); Andy Graham (sound designer); Jonnie Riordan (movement director); Olivia Barr (casting director); Natalie Grady (accent coach); Ryan McVeigh (assistant director); and Ngozi Ugochukwu (observer director). The Book of Will director Lotte Wakeham said: “I am thrilled to announce this incredibly talented cast of actors and fantastic creative team for our highly anticipated co-production of The Book of Will..”
Wednesday, May 17 – Saturday, June 3.
Tickets start from £15 and are on-sale now.
Visit Octagon Theatre website here.
Phone: 01204 520661
Octagon Theatre, Howell Croft South, Bolton BL1 1SB
Steve Cooke has more recently enlisted the perceptive skills of the aforementioned poet Seamus Kelly, (shown right in conversation with me at Crescent Community Radio on the all across the arts show i used to co-host with jazz master Steve Bewick). Seamus who is one of Rochdale´s finest poets and creative writing facilitators became one of the regular contributors to Mr, Cooke´s column and penned the following review for one of the final editions of all across the arts in The Rochdale Observer, and often posts similar work on his own blog at One Poet´s Vision.
Check out our article on Seamus called Dictionary Definition Of A Poet, published on xxx and now available in our easy to negotiate archives.
THIS TOWN, (left) by Rory Aaron
Review by Seamus Kelly
This Town, by Rory Aaron (left) at the Contact Theatre, Performed by Rory Aaron, and Kate Ireland
Billed as a modern-day epic narrative poem this production might to be undersold – it is so much more with its superb dramatic performances, including dance, physicality and the poet, Rory Aaron, and actor, Kate Ireland, each taking on roles of narrator and various characters in the piece. The poetry itself never gets bogged down in restrictive patterns and rhythms but adapts and changes throughout the performance adding power and depth to the story.
The stage set, a simple platform on casters with two wooden walls and a doorway, was a deceptively simple yet clever set which enhanced the performance. The actors simply rotated the platform between the interior of the local pub or other locations, as necessary. A mixture of music composed for the piece by Blythe Pepino and classics from the 90s complemented the writing and added atmosphere.
photo 7 This Town, running for an hour, tells the story through the eyes and words of a young man called Dean, his family and those he associates with, as he returns to his small hometown. The town is Derby, the poet’s home town but could be anywhere, especially in the North of England.
Dean has trouble at school and skips it when he can and hangs around the local gym run by boxing coach Vlad. He is close to Joe, a young boxer with lots of aggression and anger issues who is heading towards his first fight.
Dean’s brother, Liam, has come home from his most recent spell as a soldier in Basra but can’t bring himself to tell anyone that he won’t be going back because of PTSD. The portrayal of the young man struggling to breath with his seizures, and panic as PTSD kicks in is both stunning and shocking, a superb piece of acting and direction.
Sarah has been Dean’s friend since childhood and is uncomfortable and Dean’s feelings change and he “just wants to own me, just like all the others”, but is unable to bring herself to tell friends or family that she is gay. With the local pub landlady, Clara, from Belfast having supported her husband through early onset Alzheimer’s, the story, just like life in many small towns, can feel very bleak, but the characters, the strength of the performances, the empathy in the writing and a few moments of hope result in an excellent show.
Despite this plethora of positive from his borough and its hinterland the decline in the circumstances of the local print newspaper industry has now seen Steve Cooke now circulating the following news
All Across The Arts Column CURRENT SITUATION
Since my recent email about the future of our AATA Column I have had a discussion with Gareth Tidman, Editor of REACH local print editions including Rochdale Observer and Heywood & Middleton Advertiser.
He explained that parent company, REACH has announced redundancies that have a significant impact on our local print and online editions.
Previously the online team were sub-editing our columns and submitting them for print. They are no longer going to be able to do this but shall continue to publish AATA Column twice per week with midweek and weekend editions online at InYourArea. The print team does not have the capacity to take over sub-editing and setting the page.
I informed Gareth that an elemental function of our Column is to promote individual and community well-being through engagement with the creative arts and that many readers of print editions do not access their news/information/reading for pleasure online. Gareth agreed to personally take responsibility to publish selected articles from our columns in the print editions when they are Rochdale-specific and there is space.
REACH is to cut 200 roles in a £30m cost-cutting drive, after advertisers failed to spend heavily through the World Cup, Black Friday and Christmas season. reporting a slump of 20.2% in print advertising and 5.9% in digital ads in the traditionally strong fourth quarter.
REACH is the UK’s and Ireland’s largest commercial news publisher. Home to more than 130 brands, from national titles like the Mirror, Express, Daily Record and Daily Star, to local brands like MyLondon, BelfastLive and the Manchester Evening News. Every month, 48 million people access, via print and online, for news, entertainment and sport, reaching 76% of the UK’s online population, with what’s going on in their area and throughout the world.
Steve Cooke is a well-respected figure in Rochdale in the education sector and the arts sector and is a much liked figure on the local community arts scene. When we worked together for so many years he taught me how to recognise new opportunities, and though he might not have realised it, inspired me to set up Sidetracks and Detours
Steve, who is now a massive influence on the Good Vibe In Rochdale about which we published a post of that title on 11th April 2023 that now remains easily accessible in our easy to negotiate archives of around 1,000 articles filed in our Sidetracks And Detours archives. Steve treads his stepping stones lightly and as everything else is drowning around him I´m confident he will simply nip back to dry land and keep on trekking all across the arts in a different direction.
Watch this space, and that space and the other space over there because wherever there is space to promote the arts he loves, Steve Cooke will fill it. !
There are so many great listing agencies and freelance journalists out there doing a great job of keeping as many outlets as possible infomed of news they can share with the readers and client base.
For example, we can tell uou that our friend and occasional contributor, radio presenter Steve Bewick is presenting a new edition of Hot Biscuits jazz from the mix cloud this week.
The show features a review from Gary Heywood-Everett of a Lancashire based musician and band. Steve Lewis offers an eclectic style of music with the band, Deep Cabaret, ´which emerged fully-formed from the intertidal mudflats and cowbelly quicksands of Morecombe´. Also featured on this week´s Hot Biscuits will be music from Stacy Kent, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny and Quentin Collins. If this looks interesting share the link below with friends and listen in 24/07 at MIXCLOUD.COM
You may have already heard, too from Jazz In Reading, informing you that Surrey based jazz vocalist & songwriter Sarah Jane Eveleigh will be appearing
Pangbourne Working Men´s Jazz Club
Sunday 7 May | 7:30pm start
Only £12.50 entry | Cheap bar | Raffle | Public Car Park
Pay on the door or book online here
She was born and raised in Manchester before moving to the south of England to study a diploma in performing arts.
These days, drawing from a wealth of professional and personal experience, Sarah Jane is a passionate and gifted storyteller.
Working alongside a host of talented musicians she continues to build a strong reputation as one of the most sought after vocalists on the circuit.
Jazz in Reading are looking forward to welcoming Sarah Jane to Pangbourne and are sure she will become a firm favourite.