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North-East’s first music hall superstar brought back to life


May 19, 2017

A new play featuring the North-East’s very first music hall superstar, Ned Corvan, is coming to Gala this month.

In the 19th century, comedian and singer Ned wowed audiences across the region with his songs based on issues affecting the working classes – from the increasing price of coal to the way factory workers were treated by bosses.

Heard the myth about the Hartlepool Monkey? Legend has it that Ned was the founder of the tale, with his song Fishermen Killed the Monkey, O! His song was apparently the first mention of the now-famous story that the town mistook a monkey for a French spy during the Napoleonic Wars.

Mr Corvan’s Music Hall has its world premiere at Gala on Thursday, 25 May and runs for three nights, including a matinee performance on Saturday.

Despite drawing thousands of people a night to his very own music hall in South Shields, Corvan has largely been forgotten and is now relatively unknown to modern audiences.

However, all that could be set to change as he is brought back to life in a play based on his experiences and filled with his entertaining songs, written by Ed Waugh – himself a star of the North-East arts scene.

“Ned was a superstar in the 1850s and was the best-known entertainer in the region, but sadly he lived before cameras so the only images we have are his self-portraits,” said Ed.

“A political performer, he mirrored working class life and wrote and performed songs in support of striking workers, with his best known song supporting the aspirations of women. Listen to The Cullercoats Fish Lass – it’s magnificent!”

Waugh has had numerous successes with plays focusing on forgotten stars, including Hadaway Harry and Alf Ramsay Knew My Grandfather – but admitted he had never heard of Ned before being approached about this play. “He doesn’t have a well-known song like Geordie Armstrong’s Blaydon Races, but I was given 30 of Ned’s songs to listen to and the words, tunes and passion just blew me away,” he added.

“I also had access to the first draft of Dave Harker’s excellent biography of Ned, Cat-Gut Jim, and I knew that together, those songs and his life story provided the material for a great stage play.

“His songs remain relevant even today – he even sings about soup kitchens.”

Gateshead’s Jamie Brown will return to Gala to take on the role of Ned as a young man, while Chris Connel, star of the popular Pitman Painters, stars as older Ned.

Cellist and fiddle player Rachael McShane – an original member of five times Folk Award winners Bellowhead – will also perform in the show.

The world premiere of Mr Corvan’s Music Hall will take place at Gala on Thursday, 25 May at 7.30pm followed by a performance at the same time on Friday, 26 May and Saturday, 27 May. A matinee performance will also take place on Saturday at 2.30pm.

Tickets for the show cost £15 or £13 for concessions and can be bought by visiting www.galadurham.co.uk, calling the box office on on 03000 266 600 or visiting the venue in person. 2-for-1 tickets are available for the opening night performance.

By Emily