Human Jukebox: Joe McElderry, Denise Robertson and Jason Cook choose their favourite songs

Helen Spencer and Steve Drayton, who are running the Human Jukebox as the Cultural Spring's Winter Tales Commission.
Helen Spencer and Steve Drayton, who are running the Human Jukebox as the Cultural Spring's Winter Tales Commission.

Three local celebrities are among dozens of people nominating their most memorable song and describing the story behind their choice for a new arts project.

Mr Drayton’s Human Jukebox is the Cultural Spring’s Winter Tales commission and has involved dozens of interviews so far across 10 wards in South Tyneside and Sunderland.

The project is the brainchild of Helen Spencer, a freelance director for the BBC, and her partner, BBC producer Steve Drayton.

“It’s a simple idea, but one which we think works really well,” explained Helen.

“We’re going round the 10 Cultural Spring wards and talking to people about their most memorable single or song and why it is significant to them.

“We’ve spoken to musical, cultural and church groups alongside shops, businesses and schools.

Jason Cook chose Your Love by The Prodigy as his most memorable song.

Jason Cook chose Your Love by The Prodigy as his most memorable song.

“We’ve been to many community groups too, explaining the project and getting people’s choices of songs.

“The music is a trigger for a conversation about the memory behind it – which might be happy or sad.

“It’s these stories that we’re after, and we’ve captured more than a hundred so far. Interestingly, none of the people we’ve interviewed have chosen the same song.

“We wanted people’s most memorable song rather than their favourite because we knew we’d get a real range and mix of stories and emotions, and that’s exactly what we’ve got so far.

Agony aunt Denise Robertson chose The Lambton Worm as his most memorable song.

Agony aunt Denise Robertson chose The Lambton Worm as his most memorable song.

“We’ve talked to a few people that are instantly recognisable in the North East like Pam Royle, Joe McElderry, Jason Cook and Denise Robertson, but most of the people we’ve interviewed have been members of the public.

“We’ll also be asking people to contribute choices and stories to our website and Facebook page later in the project.”

Steve explained the next stage of the project: “We’ll work with some of our contributors to turn their stories into three-minute performance pieces which we will share with the Human Jukebox’s audience at four social evenings, the first of which will be at The Smugglers at Roker on Wednesday, September 23.

“These events will act as an opportunity for people to come and meet us and share their own stories, and will also act as a rehearsal for our grand finale in January.

“I’m not going to oversell this event, but it will be the best light-entertainment storytelling spectacular you’ve ever seen.

“There’ll be people there telling their real-life stories in front of a supportive live audience.

“It takes a lot for folk to get on their feet in front of people you don’t know, especially if you’re not used to it, but we’re sure everyone will have a great time.

“We’re hoping members of the audience will want to share their stories too.”

Steve, who as well as producing Radio Newcastle’s Simon Logan afternoon show is also a comedian and well-respected music aficionado, said the finale to the project and the monthly ‘social gatherings’ will also feature performances from local bands and musicians.

Rebecca Ball, project director of the Cultural Spring, said: “We’re sure the human jukebox is going to be a real hit – combining great music with great stories.

“Some are happy, others will be sad, but this is what we wanted from our Winter Tales project, an opportunity for people living in our wards to share their stories with each other.”

The Cultural Spring is working in Castletown, Red House, Southwick, Fulwell and Roker/St Peter’s wards in Sunderland, and Biddick Hall and All Saints, Boldon, Cleadon, Whitburn/Marsden and Whiteleas in South Tyneside.

It has three founding partners, the University of Sunderland, the Customs House in South Shields and the Sunderland Musical, Arts and Culture (Mac) Trust.


Jason Cook, Writer and Comedian and Creator of Hebburn

The Prodigy - Your Love

It was the rave culture. That’s my era. It was an amazing time in British music because rave was ours. It was a very English, British thing. It wasn’t a thing that was imported from America.

A lot of the music that was around then, rave music was very badly produced, made by lads on computers in their bedrooms. But the Prodigy was done in a studio.

It’s a very simple song, it starts with a piano and when that came on the place went wild. It was like an anthem for our times and that time was incredible.

The Criminal Justice Bill was just coming in that was going to prevent people from going to raves. That was one of the stipulations of it.

We felt we were discovering something new, this new style of music and these meetings we would have. All very innocent.

If you listen to it now, if you put it on in a room with men my age they will look at each other knowingly and go ‘yes this is also mine’.

But I probably couldn’t dance to it now the way this body has collapsed over the years.

Denise Robertson, Writer and TV Presenter (Celebrity Mastermind contestant - 1st Earl of Durham)

The Lambton Worm

I was born in Sunderland when it was part of County Durham and my most memorable song is The Lambton Worm.

I love it because it’s about John Lambton, who came home from Palestine slew the beast with the ‘git big googly eyes’ and saved the people of County Durham.

But my real hero is his descendent John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham.

He was born immensely rich, but he believed all men were equal and he fought for me to get the vote.

Ordinary men didn’t have the vote in those days. When he brought in the Reform Bill in 1832, he came home to Lambton and the miners took the horses from the shaft of his carriage and pulled him home by hand they were so grateful. Penshaw Monument was built in his memory by the people of County Durham.

I think the John Lambton in the song would be very proud of his descendant.

Joe McElderry, X Factor Singer

Fleetwood Mac - Everywhere

First of all I am a massive fan of the band. I love all their music but this song for me is one of those timeless hits that you just love to sing along to that feelgood factor it has.

Jason Meiers, Biddick Hall

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird

I’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer. The doctors have told me it can’t be cured, just managed. This is my ‘go to’ song.

When I am in hospital having treatment I can’t sleep. It’s so noisy I plug my headphones into my phone and listen to this to blank everything else out.

The first time I ever heard it was on my first lads’ weekend.

We had a Ford Capri and £5 for petrol. By Newcastle we knew we wouldn’t make it home, so stopped to put 35p worth of petrol in the car.

This song was playing on the cassette desk all weekend.

Sophie Dagg, Whitburn

Mini Disco – Veo, Veo

My dad used to have a villa in Menorca and we would fly out about four time a year. Every night we would go to the local disco in our complex and the dancing would start with this song, Veo, Veo.

All the Spanish people would go wild. I learned all the moves.

I thought I was the best and would show off to my visiting cousins trying to teach them. It drove my dad demented – he tried to get me to go to other bars, but I wouldn’t.

I didn’t know what the song was called but for my 21st birthday my dad found out. He asked Josef from the bar to send over a CD from Spain and my dad put it on at my party as a surprise.

Mind he calls it ‘Bill, Bill’ because that’s what it sounds like in Spanish. To be be honest, I don’t even know what the lyrics say, but it’s definitely my happy holiday song.

The dates and venues of the Human Jukebox socials are:

• The Smugglers, Roker, Wednesday, September 23, 7.30-9pm

• The Smugglers, Roker, Wednesday, October 21, 7.30-9pm

• Whitburn and Marsden Social Club, Wednesday, November 18, 7.30–9pm

• Whitburn and Marsden Social Club, Wednesday, December 16, 7.30–9pm

Entry is free for each event.

The grand finale will be held at Hylton Castle Workingman’s Club on Saturday, January 30, 2016.