Geordie heroes stage charity Newcastle concert
PUBLISHED: 12:08 22 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:48 20 February 2013
Geordie actor Sammy Johnson died in 1998 while training for the Great North Run. His memory lives on in charity concerts held every two years to raise money for young performing talent in the North East
The North Easts brightest stars put on two glittering Sunday for Sammy concerts at Newcastle City Hall to raise money to help nurture aspiring local talent.
Guitar genius Mark Knopfler was the surprise superstar guest and brought both sell-out three-hour shows - a matinee and evening performance - to a memorable finale with his Geordie anthem, Local Hero.
But not before the Newcastle-bred former Dire Straits frontman revealed another surprise - a rare ability to indulge in comedy.
In fact, he was the butt of a three-hour running joke in the shows as he repeatedly entered stage right to play the opening notes of some of his greatest hits - only to be summarily dismissed by the rest of the cast.
First he was thrown off stage by organiser and show compere Tim Healy while trying to launch into Walk of Life. Then Tims actress wife Denise Welch gave him the elbow after a few bars of Sultans of Swing. Finally he was given a red card by Toon legend Alan Shearer - on a video link via a huge 40 ft screen behind the stage - as he played the blistering intro riff on the mighty Money for Nothing.
They all urged him: "Not that. Play your hit, man. "
Show mastermind Tim also starred as brickie Dennis in a pair of hilarious Auf Wiedersehen Pet sketches with his TV co-stars Kevin Whately (Neville) and Christopher Fairbank (Moxey).
They were specially penned by the shows original writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who flew in from Hollywood for the big night.
Actor Timothy Spall, who played Barry in the TV series, got in on the act via a satellite link. He set up the sketch - playing a sizzled RAF veteran - which saw the hapless brickies incarcerated in the German wartime prison, Colditz.
Actress Julia Tobin, who played Nevilles missus Brenda on TV, also featured in it with comic Brendan Healy as a hilarious Geordie Colonel and former Coronation Street star Kevin Kennedy as a Nazi doctor.
Denise and her fellow Loose Women anchor Andrea McLean starred in a rude send-up of the ITV daytime show called Slack Lasses - also featuring Geordie actress Angie Lonsdale and North East news presenter Pam Royle.
Brilliant music came from a superb house band comprising Lindisfarne legends Billy Mitchell and Ray Laidlaw (who also helps put the show together with former Tyne Tees Television director Geoff Wonfor) playing with Ray Stubbs on vocals and harmonica, John Hedley on guitar, and Brendan Healy on keyboards. Tim Healy took memorable lead vocals on Eric Burdons classic blues spoof, Send You Back to Walker.
Veteran Tyneside blues band Junco Partners and celebrated Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell also played live on stage and joined the entire cast in a moving rendition of the Lindisfarne anthem Run For Home to close the show - to rapturous applause.
The charity concert also featured some of the young performers who have benefitted from grants awarded from the Sammy Johnson Memorial Fund established in the name of the late actor, who died suddenly in 1998 at the age
Opera singer Ruth Jenkins, harpist Emily Hoile and singers Hayley McKay and Louise Henderson all got a great reception from an appreciative crowd.
Celebration of everything Geordie
Ten years on, Tyneside actor Tim Healy explains to Michael Hamilton how the Sunday for Sammy concerts originated. Sammy Johnson was his stage name: he was Ronnie to his pals.
Tim: In 1998 my great friend Ronnie Johnson died. He was only 49, still a young man really. He was training for the Great North Run is Spain - he did it 14 times for charity - and he dropped down dead jogging up a hill.
He was my best friend and I was distraught. We did everything together and were great buddies. Jimmy Nail came to see me because he knew how upset I was and suggested we do something to commemorate his memory.
Ronnie became famous as the villain Stick in the TV detective series Spender with Jimmy Nail.
I suggested a one-off concert at Newcastle City Hall and he agreed. So we went to the Community Foundation with the idea and said we would like to help young people in the performing arts who were trying to get established and give them a leg up.
I got all my mates together - actors and musicians - and rang Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais who wrote Auf Wiedersehen Pet and asked them to do some sketches.
We had never done AWP on stage before and Jimmy had never even worked on stage as an actor.
We did it and the place went absolutely mad. We had forgotten how popular the AWP characters were. Dick and Ian came to the show and were amazed too.
Within weeks we decided to do another series for TV. It had been 15 years since we first did it and never thought about doing it again. It took my best mate to die to bring us all back together again and do the Transporter Bridge series in Arizona.
Because it was so successful we said lets do this concert every two years. Its just grown and grown and grown and become a huge celebration in the North East of everything Geordie.
Every time we do it we have at least two grantees on the bill so they get to play live in front of 2,500 people. Thats great for them.
In 2004 we decided to film it so now, as well as playing two live shows to 5,000 people, we also sell more than 100,000 DVDs following the shows.
We never advertise whos going to be appearing because everyone who agrees to come along has professional commitments and might not be able to make it at the last minute.
One appeal of the show is that things can go wrong. Some people dont get time for a rehearsal or to learn their lines. The audience love it when you get it wrong because it makes you look human.
The atmosphere is always fantastic with the audience hanging from the rafters. Where else do you get that happening on a Sunday afternoon?
MH: Whys Jimmy Nail not involved with it any more?
Tim: Jimmy resigned four years ago. He wasnt involved with the last one and sadly hes not involved with this one.
Its not for any reason other than I think the pressure of it was getting too much for him. Im sure he will come back sometime and do some performing again.
MH: And what are your memories of Ronnie?
Tim: I first met Ronnie back in 1973 I was a founder member of the Live Theatre on the Quayside and he was a bass player in a band called Pigmeat. He started as a musician with the theatre and then got various bit parts and became an actor.
He had a great look for TV. When he was young he was chased by a gang of thugs and ran into a fence. He had this scar between his eyes, which made him look a bit of a hard nut but he was a beautiful man.
He had a great spirit and when he walked into a room he lit the place up.
Quarter of a million thanks
This years bash was the sixth biennial show since 2000 when Tim Healy and Jimmy Nail launched the first Sunday for Sammy concert. They have raised more than 200,000 with an additional 50,000 coming from the sale of videos and DVDs. Since its inception the fund has given out almost 150,000 to 155 individuals.
* If you would like to donate to the fund please go to www.sundayforsammy.org
* This years DVD can be ordered now and the three previous DVDs from 2004, 2006 and 2008 are also available at www.jgwindows.com Tel: 0191 232 1356