Contributed by Beryl Guru
10 October 2014 at 12:08 · Darlington.
It’s over ten years on now since the glossy brochure from the town council arrived to inform us that there were plans for re-development in the town centre. The need for the deed was debated and questioned at length, but in spite of misgivings from many, it was passed to go ahead.
I still sob just as uncontrollably to myself now, as I did when the work actually started to happen in December 2005. The reason why these tears flow is that whenever I dare think about what we threw away when we bulldozed our unique old High Row up, I feel extremely sad about what my town has lost.
The tourist attraction potential alone was worth millions to us, but most of all its value in reassuring us true Darlophile’s of our sense of place, and inspiring future generations to feel the same loyalty to their hometown would have been invaluable.
It should have been lovingly restored. Instead, it was thoughtlessly cast aside to be replaced at great pain and expense with a bland and not particularly well-constructed street pattern, that could be…well just about anywhere.
Sadly the latest version of High Row is at best merely functional and meaningless to me, and I don’t doubt that is the opinion of other ‘feeling’ people also.
The loss of the symbolic old High Row and the subsequent planning problems associated with the whole redevelopment affected the economy of the town too.
Pedestrianisation changed the dynamic and people flow of the centre. The new design with its far too many steps acts as a barrier to people wanting to cross from one side of the road to the other. The ill-considered re-siting of the bus stops causes inconvenience to visitors (especially the elderly or disabled), affecting mine and other people’s businesses.
Even more than that it totally broke a great many hearts, mine included.
My life has never been the same (since that awful time between 2005 and 2007 when the big upheaval occurred), it has been diminished. In fact, I might go as far as saying a big part of my life has been ruined.
I feel lost and discontented in a place where I formerly felt that whatever was going on, at least I was ‘at home’, and it could very likely be sorted!
Some will not even remember the vastly more people friendly old High Row or discover what historical significance it held and what it and its environs meant socially, which is a huge shame. Some others will not think what is written above to be important and may disagree, but this conviction that losing that fabulously historic icon was a sad mistake for Darlington to make is a fact for me and curdles my blood every hour of every day that I live.
I don’t hate anyone for being so lacking in vision as to have been a part of what has been described (by people I know who feel that they understand the history of the town), as an act of corporate vandalism.
I am not a ‘hater’ of people, but I do hate feeling so sad, and I don’t think I am alone in that.
I partly blame myself too, for so stupidly believing that the value of old High Row was seen and appreciated by everyone. If for one moment it had ever occurred to me that was not the case, I would have moved heaven and earth to get a preservation order on it.
It astonishes me to this day that no-one had seen the need to do that.
I’m not being melodramatic when I say that for far too many of us, when the heart of this town (our finest ever incarnation of High Row), was demolished lots more died with it – including a vital part of me.
I have never got over the shock, and hard as I try to probably never will.
Review from the web. Ours may follow later when time allows…
Kris Kristofferson has had a roller-coaster career, from military service and an Oxford scholarship to cleaning floors in a Nashville recording studio and making it big as a country singer and movie actor. At 74, his beard now totally white, he stands centre-stage, guitar in hand and harmonica at his lips. You can still see the Hollywood-grade cheekbones that earned him legions of female admirers.
Starting with “Shipwrecked in the Eighties”, he soon interrupts himself, saying: “This goes out to the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, in opposition to the war.” This former soldier, the son of an Air Force general, makes plenty of political remarks. During “Nobody Wins” he jokes that Dick Cheney and George W Bush probably sang it to each other in the shower, and then emphasises the lines: “‘Cause it’s a shame to make/ The same mistakes again/ And again/ It’s over/ Nobody wins.”
Kristofferson’s fame owes much to the songs he has written for other singers – here, “Me and Bobby McGee” is received with wild applause. The song, written for Roger Miller and a posthumous hit for an ex-girlfriend, Janis Joplin, remarks: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Kristofferson’s rendition is soft, smoothing the tune’s husky edges but preserving its resonance.
He sings about alcoholism, dope, the devil, prison and his family. You can see why he and Johnny Cash got along. The septuagenarian smiles politely down at the audience but his lyrics are dark as night. His version of “Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down”, a song made famous by Cash, rings true despite Kristofferson having kicked the booze in 1976.
Having galloped joyfully through 28 songs, a slightly overwhelmed Kristofferson retires to a standing ovation. Female fans scream for more. Returning for three encores, he finishes by shouting the last line of “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends”.
My first inkling that there even was a person named Ian Siegal in the world came in 2007. I was trying to see who was playing at a blues festival called Blues on the Farm in Chichester, and when I googled it his name came up as someone who was playing there.
My reason for trying to find out the line-up for this festival, was due to hearing a rumour that a girl we liked a lot called Imelda Clabby (now Imelda May), had stopped singing with Mike Sanchez and Blue Harlem in order to form her very own band, which would be making one of its first public appearances at the festival.
It was a long way to travel from Darlington to Chichester, which was as far South as you could drive without ending up in the sea, but we Gurus reckoned Imelda was worth it. We also knew that the wonderful Mike Sanchez was going to be playing there too, plus the Festival Of Speed was on at Goodwood at the same time, and we had several different groups of friends living in that area as well, so hey lots of good reasons for making this trip – so why not?
All I could find out from the BOTF website was that Ian Siegal was definitely booked. I didn’t know anything about him, but looked at the picture of him which was on the site, and thought ‘bet that was taken a while back, he’s bound to be one of those very good, but very tedious middle-aged blues guys who indulge in long drawn out guitar solo’s, and think that they’re Eric Clapton, (yawn)!!!’
How wrong could one woman be?
We got to Chichester and stayed at The Vestry a five star B&B/pub which was very nice, as we got to drink into the early hours and eat bar snacks every night we were there…
We saw The Miller family who’d been my friends since the 1950s.
We also knew some people there that Mike Sanchez had connected us with via his MSN group, which he ran under the name of Zorro!
A great time was had at Blues on the Farm on Friday night, seeing and hearing Mike Sanchez and his band, and also getting to know some new friends (Jilly, Ange, Steve and Uwe).
In spite of torrential rain, we enjoyed The Festival of Speed during the day on Saturday and attended a lovely party at Charles and Liz Miller’s house on the night.
Then on Sunday, when Imelda was due to play we returned to Pump Bottom, Farm where the blues music festival was taking place…
The weather was awful as it was still pouring with rain, and very muddy underfoot. In fact, we were ankle deep in the stuff even inside the marquee where the music was being played. When a musician called Lisa Mills took to the stage she was almost electrocuted, due to water leaking in and coming into contact with her equipment…
Anyway, the excellent organisers managed to stop the leak and the weather brightened up a bit, and this Ian Siegal band came on.
The band consisted of three people. Ian Siegal himself was slim, tattooed, bare-armed, and dressed in a battered straw cowboy hat, faded denim waistcoat and jeans, and snakeskin cowboy boots. I remember feeling relieved that he had no paunch and didn’t look at all like I’d expected him to look. The others were a tall rangy bass player (who also looked interesting), and an older dark-haired man on drums.
Then they started to play, and that was it for me. Ping!!!
I just stood there riveted as the realisation of how good they were hit me. It was one of those eureka moments when you know that you’re witnessing something incredible, and you’re going to want to go on repeating the experience forever if possible.
Our friend Steve Wilkins, realising how impressed we were with Ian, insisted after he’d done his set that he come over and sit down with us. Then Steve introduced Guru’s Col to Ian and asked for permission to take a photo. Ian stood up and Col stood next to him, in order that this could happen. Other people who were around, then just started snapping away, as if this man was some sort of exhibit.
I felt slightly uncomfortable with that, so before I joined in too, I asked Ian if it was OK. When he nodded to say it was, I took a picture of them both for Col to keep.
Ian mentioned he would soon be making a journey North to play at The Cluny, so I made a mental note not to miss that. As soon as we got back home I began to look out for any other Ian Siegal gigs too, as after just this one encounter we were all well and truly hooked.
I went there primarily to see the wonderful Imelda’s new band, and to catch up with Mike Sanchez again too (and wasn’t disappointed of course), but came away with a premonition that Ian Siegal (and the way he played music in just the way we liked it), was going to be a recurring factor in all our futures…
When we got back home I looked on Ian’s website and saw that even before the two consecutive gigs at The Cluny, he and his band were coming to Guisborough. Feeling very excited at the prospect I quickly booked tickets for that.
The night of the Guisborough gig arrived, and we (Michael, Col and I), found ourselves sitting in eager expectation in a room that looked like it had never altered since the 1970s, which I thought was quite sweet.
The band were even more amazing than they had been at BOTF. In the interval when we were buying ‘Swagger’ (his latest CD), I asked Ian if we had missed the Tom Waits night I’d heard he was doing at The Black Gardenia, and he said unfortunately we had. We didn’t ask him to, but to our delight he performed some Waits in the second half of the gig, and said it was for someone he’d spoken to in the interval, and I had that premonition thing again about Ian being of some significance to us, and knew we’d be seeing him again and again.
I also remember thinking he looked worryingly wasted and hoped he wasn’t going to make himself ill with whatever excesses he indulged in, and depart this world before I did.
I just realised that sounds a bit selfish, as if once I’d gone, he could do what damage he liked… 🙂
Next time we saw the band was at the now legendary two-parter at The Cluny in Newcastle and both these gigs were even better than the ones we had seen the band do before. On that Saturday night Ian strutted and preened, and the band did justice to the music exactly the way it should be done. He also drank excessively onstage. I drink far too much myself, but I’d never seen anything like this. The next part of this set of two gigs at the same venue was on Sunday lunchtime. This time when Ian arrived on-stage he mentioned he needed to sit down for the first couple of songs, as he was still recovering from a rough night. That didn’t prevent people from plying him with double and triple JD’s, and even giving him bottles of the stuff, one of which he all but totally consumed during the course of the gig. Even one of our biker friends who had come along with us to see what all the fuss was about said “Christ, he must be a coke-head, as that’s the only way he could stay sober enough to perform a gig after all that” then he added “are his audience trying to kill him?” I had to agree with our mate and felt quite upset in case this Ian bloke I’d just found overdid it all, as that would be a tragic waste.
I absolutely LOVED the gigs (the one on Saturday night, and the one on the Sunday lunchtime), both of which were entirely different, with no songs repeated…and we all wanted to follow the band down to Nottingham, where they were going to play again on Sunday evening.
Of course, we didn’t because we had to get back and prepare for work in the morning! As the band were leaving for Nottingham, I asked Ian how on earth he could manage to do yet another gig that day, after the weekend he had already had. His answer was “it’ll be more like a comedy routine I expect, but at least I can sleep in the back of the car on the way down”, and with that he was gone…
Anyway, that was an account of my/our first four encounters with Ian Siegal, and since then we have attended many phenomenal Ian Siegal shows, and could tell interesting stories (some of them life-changing), related to those memorable gigs!
There have also been times when we had great seats booked for other bands, then found out they clashed with an Ian gig, and so either just gave the other tickets away or wasted them in favour of seeing him, and his excellent band which was made up at that time, of bass player Andy Graham, and Drummer Nikolaj Bjerre.
I’ve felt ever more entertained and enlightened with each time we’ve seen Ian Siegal, whether with one of the bands he plays in (of which there are several), or solo etc.
We have followed Ian all over the place since that first incredible gig, and in an inspired moment back in 2008 when I was coming up to sixty-five years of age, I booked Ian and his band, Imelda May and her fabulous band, and our talented friends Norman Beaker and John Price, to do a joint birthday gig for myself and Colin.
I wanted to stage this occasion more than anything else in the world, and OK it cost me all the money I could scrape up, but it was worth every penny.
That party remains unequalled for us Gurus, and many of our friends say the same.
Quite simply, it was our ultimate dream gig!
There were a couple of short-lived attempts at starting an ‘alternative’ boutique, which my parents called respectively ‘Quaker Girl’ then ‘Santana’ back in the early 1970s.
Then in 1972 on a wing and a prayer, my late mam (Irene Maughan) and I started the now famous Guru Boutique.
We knew nothing about business, and at that time thought we would fail like the earlier attempts had, and envisaged lasting no more than a few weeks if we were lucky.
We had no definite plan when we made that leap of faith of going self-employed to see if we could run a ‘different’ kind of shop, but just felt it was the right thing for us to do. The present Gurus (myself, Tony Smith, Colin Harrison and Kelly McWilliams), with a lot of help from our friends and customers, are here running Guru well over forty years later, and that to me is a miracle…and in my case at least, I’m still trying to get the hang of it all!
It’s all the fault of a rock band called Mother’s Lament who my husband Ray used to manage. We started going to London with the band in the late 1960s and loved nothing better than by day mooching around Kensington Market (forerunner of Camden Market), and going to music clubs and pubs such as the Marquee or Klooks Kleek at night.
Coming back to Darlington seemed like returning to another world. In those days we didn’t have the ease of communication we have now due to fast trains, the internet etc., so the culture and fashions were very different in London to those here in the North East at that time.
I loved the whole London thing, especially the music scene.
In the early 1970s after hearing my stories about what I had seen in the capital city, my mam and dad ventured down to see for themselves. On my recommendation, they went to Kensington Market and found trade suppliers who sold them some Indian clothing and gifts, and opened ‘Quaker Girl’. This little shop which was in North Road didn’t last too long, as it was probably too far out of town. Dad then went to one of the small ex-mining towns nearby and rented a lock-up to try again. I advised him to call this attempt, ‘Santana’ and at first it attracted a lot of attention. Too much attention, however, as a few weeks after it opened the shop was broken into and poor dad lost all his stock as he wasn’t insured. After that blow, he totally lost interest.
After it closed my mam came to work with me in a leather shop in Post House Wynd.I had recently taken the job of manageress of this shop, even ‘though the Leeds based owner was honest with us made us aware that it was on its uppers and he was trying to sell it. Anyway the stock dwindled, and towards the end we had hardly anything left to display in the window, so if say we happened to have a few leather skirts to dress the mannequins in, but no tops to go with them, I would bring some of my own Indian tops, or some velvet garments left over from the now-defunct Quaker Girl in to complete the outfit. This filled in the gaps ensuring that the shop window didn’t look too empty.
We soon realised that the customers were more interested in our Indian tunics, cheesecloth kurtas and velvet tops (decorated with mirror work and embroidery) than the leather skirts and jackets which the shop was supposed to sell.
SO, when the owner finally closed the leather shop and put mam and me on a small retainer wage for a few weeks, until he could find new owners to take over, we decided to fill in the idle time by trying our luck at retailing again. Within a few days, we had found a place where we could try to do that.
On a temporary basis, mam and I took this shoebox of a unit in a rather scruffy shopping mall in the town called Court Arcade. We got it for a very low rent so we took a huge chance and quickly gave our notice in at the leather shop to give them time to find new staff before it changed hands.
Immediately we opened to our surprise we attracted a LOT of interest.
Mam contacted an Indian gentleman from Bradford called Mati Mir who she had found whilst leafing through a trade magazine. We told him what we wanted to do, and he said he was prepared to give us £300 worth of goods on sale or return to stock the shop, and then take it from there…
The stock sold, and the rest is history. We were unique in our area and became one of the very first ‘ethnic’ shops in the North East.
We attracted some of the younger and/or more ‘alternative’ people of Darlington, and it was a common occurrence for a group of hippies to be found sitting around cross-legged on our tiny floor, filling the shop with the music they were playing on their guitars and flutes and drums…
We soon widened our appeal and gained a good following of all kinds of customers of varying ages and strata’s of society, who wanted something different…
The addition of quality greetings cards helped expand our clientele too.
As my mam used to say in wonderment “we get all walks”, which made me smile as she meant we attracted a good cross-section of the public to our tiny establishment.
This led to us having to move into a bigger unit in the arcade to make room to display more clothes, cards and gifts, and then take an extra unit opposite for posters and records.
We became mega busy had to take on friends to help us (the most notable being Tony Smith who has become a vital part of Guru over the years), and we eventually ended up occupying three large units linked together in Court Arcade.
The arcade became a real alternative place to go. Units set up alongside us selling records, retro and American clothing, comics, exotic pets and pet supplies, wool, jewellery and even an American-style diner.
It was great up there – even if it was cold, didn’t have facilities like hot water and functioning toilets (we used to pop over to Binns Store to satisfy the calls of nature). It was just a big shed on a concrete floor really, with a roof lined with asbestos…
The Three Squares nearby was our favourite place to go and buy sausage, egg or bacon sarnies, plus frothy coffee for a takeaway lunch, and that place is still the same lovely no-nonsense ‘greasy spoon’ café to this day, and I pray it will never change…
Eventually, the arcade began to leak, and not just a little as we had to hire an industrial machine to suck out the water every morning so that we could open for business. The local newsagents used to save us their old papers so that we could line our sodden floors. At the end of a rainy day, we used to be walking on something that resembled pulped up paper mache… We were losing too much stock to water damage, and we knew that the time had come when we reluctantly had to move.
There was a pretty little shop in Blackwellgate that mam and I had always liked. It had been standing empty for ages, and almost seemed to have been waiting for us to take it over, so that is what we did.
It was 1990 when we ended our lease with Darlington Borough Council who owned Court Arcade, and moved to our present location of 24, Blackwellgate, and it’s now over four decades since we so innocently first started out in ‘business’.
More staff was needed in the new shop, as it had four floors, so that is when our friend Colin Harrison joined Guru to look after the first-floor rock merchandise and clothing department. Then a little later (on her return to Darlington from university), Kelly Mcwilliams completed our little Guru gang.
We have also had many great Saturday people helping us in the shop, and there is even a tradition of several sets of siblings following each other into the Guru fold!
We have stumbled on down the years, mainly using our instinct to survive. We may not have become rich but we have managed to do enough to keep going, also very important to us we have been decent in our dealings with people, and in the process of that gained many valued friends who we would never have even met if we had not accidentally created Guru.
The saga continues and we will look forward to being able to deal with whatever comes next, as to us Gurus this is our shared adventure…
In these times where big businesses tend to categorise customers as consumers rather than recognise them as unique people, and depend on statistics to try to channel people’s tastes towards what they want them to buy, I think there may be more need than ever for shops like Guru, where hanging on to individuality and a more human approach are the key!
We’ve expanded onto the internet now, so we are trying to keep the same spirit that we have always had in the physical shop alive and well online.
SO much more has happened throughout the years we have been around, that if I tried to put it all into this post we’d have to turn it into a book. Therefore if you want to know more about our history and our shop, watch out for separate stories which I’ll be posting about specific things which have popped up along the way.
Like Gerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead once said, “what a long strange trip this has been” and I have to add in our case, “long may it continue”!
Beryl Maughan Hankin
Article written by Beryl Guru – for inclusion in a great little music magazine called ‘Blues Matters’:
Almost ten years ago my friends and I walked into a Mike Sanchez gig and encountered for the first time the wonderful Imelda, who at that time was singing backing vocals for his excellent band. She was stunning even then dressed in a Chinese dress, wearing a flower in her piled up hair and singing in a smoky retro style that mesmerized us all. My friend Colin observed “that girl is brilliant, one day she will be a huge star in her own right!”
We are ecstatic to report that this prophecy has come true, and I don’t think anyone who has seen Imelda fronting her own band will disagree with us on that. She (and they), just go from strength to strength. These are real musicians playing real music, and they work their socks off. They have a strong sense of camaraderie and their own distinctive identity that shines through. Imelda handpicked these musicians and every one of them plays a vital part in this success story. Darrel Higham (Imelda May’s other title is Mrs Higham by the way), has a great authentic guitar sound. Steve ‘animal’ Rushton is awesome on drums and backing vocals. Dave Priseman makes such an impact on horns that it just wouldn’t be the same without his distinctive style of playing. The amazing Al Gare is mad, bad and cool as **** on bass, and chronicles the band’s antics in his hilarious and informative blog ‘Here, Gare and Everywhere’ which is definitely worth following if you are Imelda May fans. Imelda herself just sizzles with real talent and sex appeal from the top of her trademark kiss-curl quiff to the killer heels on her stylish shoes. This girl from Dublin never fails to rock the joint with her fabulous voice, mostly self-penned songs and exciting stage presence. Speaking of those songs it is eye opening to count up just how many hits and potential hits they have to their name. Love Tattoo, Big Bad Handsome Man, Sneaky Freak, Johnny Got a Boom Boom, Mayhem, Psycho, Kentish Town Waltz, Inside Out, and so on. She even makes the few covers she does such as ‘Tainted Love’ her own, and as for ‘Proud and Humble’ when she delivered that in Newcastle she just had us, and I suspect the rest of the crowd, in the palm of her exquisite little hand…
Every member of this band is vital. That is why Imelda chose them all, and that is why it works…
Imelda May’s band are: Imelda (vocals/bodhran, Darrel Higham (guitar), Steve (animal) Rushton (drums), Dave Priseman (trumpet, etc), Al Gare (double bass etc) – ALL fabulous musicians, and all top people to be around!
Here’s a pic (taken by Imelda at the end of the night), of the fantabulous Al Gare (with the ecstatic audience in the background), which I think says it all!!!
To say we Gurus need a regular music fix is an understatement and so in this part of our blog, we will occasionally feature some of the (not for profit) gigs, which for various reasons we organise and promote ourselves. One unforgettable example of this is the occasion advertised in the image below…