Geordie: The Musical – and a Texas ex-pat’s journey home to South Shields

Geordie: The Musical is set in the 1890s on the banks of the Tyne.
Geordie: The Musical is set in the 1890s on the banks of the Tyne.

Andy Bogle is proud when people tell him he hasn’t lost his accent.

 More than 30 years after he settled in the US Lone Star State of Texas, he might still be the Garrick Street Kid but it’s without the cowboy cadences.

The play grew out of a desire to write about our culture and heritage.

The play grew out of a desire to write about our culture and heritage.

 But even his speech reflects the evolution, over the years, of our Tyneside vernacular.

 “The dialect that we speak here was largely beaten out of us when we were kids, which is a shame,” he says, “Our dialect is older than the English language and it would be a pity if we lost it.”

 It’s this love of words, and of his roots, that have most recently been bringing Andy, 67, back to his home town of South Shields for a fascinating project with the Customs House theatre, to capture, on stage, the sights and sounds of traditional Tyneside culture.

Geordie: The Musical, which premiers at the Mill Dam venue at the end of August, has been written by playwright Tom Kelly but is based on a story written by Andy and features traditional Northumbrian songs and music.

Andy outside what was - when he attended - the Marine and Technical College.

Andy outside what was - when he attended - the Marine and Technical College.

 “Two of the things that define us as Geordies are our dialect and our music,” says Andy.

 “As far as I know, we have the largest anthology of local music anywhere in Britain. The music and songs that were written in the 19th century, especially – so many of which are so lyrical, so humorous – capture the unique culture we have up here.”

 Andy’s story, from which the musical is taken, is set in the 1890s and centres on a couple, Bella and James, and their daughter Maggie, who run a pub on the banks of the Tyne.

 It grew out of what was originally a conversation with his son, a film-maker, around the idea of a movie about Geordie culture, but was eventually pitched to – and taken up by – the Custom House’s executive director, Ray Spencer, as a play.

With Sir Ken Gibson, head of Harton Technology College, originally the Boys' Grammar School.

With Sir Ken Gibson, head of Harton Technology College, originally the Boys' Grammar School.

 “I’ve always been interested in the theatre,” says Andy, who is actually on the board of the theatre venue where he and his wife, Pegge, (CORRECT) live, in the small community of Brenham, near Independence, in Texas’s Washington County, where he has a business making stylish wooden furniture.

 “I think there’s already a certain amount of creativity in the woodwork I do,” he says. “And you’ve always been a good writer,” pipes up Pegge.

 “Since I came up with the idea, I’ve certainly never doubted it,” he says, and when people ask him why he’s doing it, he points to two things.

 Born and brought-up in Garrick Street in Shields, one is all the hours he used to spend at the Mill Dam with those books from the Ian Allan series, so popular with small boys for identifying everything from ships to trains.

Andy returning to the Mill Dam where he used to spend hours with his Ian Allan books.

Andy returning to the Mill Dam where he used to spend hours with his Ian Allan books.

 The other is Middle Docks, where his father, Bob, worked as a fitter and store keeper, and where his grandfather also worked, as did other members of the family, like his aunt and uncle who ran the canteen.

 “I can remember whaling ships like the Southern Harvester coming in and going aboard it with my dad.

 “So there are a lot of my roots tied up in this,” he says. “And pride too. It’s like when you have been away for a little while and you come back and see things like the lighthouse, and the fish quay, and there’s that sense of being ‘home’.”

 After studying at the old Boys’ Grammar School in Shields and at the Marine and Technical College, Andy’s early jobs took him into land surveying for the old Tyne Improvement Commission and then into the North Sea as a hydrographic surveyor. After much travelling, he eventually ended up in the oil and gas industry in Houston, Texas, until retirement.

 This new direction that his life is taking, into the theatre, is a thrill – though made sad by the sudden death, in May, of Jackie Fielding, who was to have directed the play, although he feels sure of her blessing, he says, on Jamie Brown, who is directing instead, and on musical director Michael Turnbull.

 He and Pegge, and friends, are underwriting the production, but there’s no profit motive.

Outside the Customs House which will stage Andy's musical later this summer.

Outside the Customs House which will stage Andy's musical later this summer.

 “If it puts some money into the Customs House’s coffers, then all well and good,” he says. “It’s not an ego trip.”

l Geordie: The Musical runs at the Customs House at the Mill Dam from August 21 to September 5. Ticket prices begin at £10. Visit www.customshouse.co.uk or telephone 0191 4541234.

Andy in the backlane of Garrick Street, where he grew-up

Andy in the backlane of Garrick Street, where he grew-up