Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Last weekend we had the opportunity to take part in the Community Radio Hub at the BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival at the Sage, Gateshead. This was both nerve-wracking and huge fun; nerve-wracking because we had to submit plans for the programmes more than a month in advance and because the BBC were building the studio. Huge fun because live radio is always huge fun and this was a wonderfully special occasion. Both shows were uploaded before the festival finished and are available on

The theme of the festival was change - so our first broadcast in our usual Friday slot was on outer change; changes in the city, changes from the ways things were when we were growing up - After an interview with Matthew Dodd, head of speech at BBC Radio 3 on the upcoming delights at the festival, we did a short tribute to Wilfred Owen, who had been killed on 4 November 1918 - just days before the end of the war. After this we had invited the 'Daughters of Tyne' with whom we made a programme a few months ago - Catherine Graham and Yvonne Young read from their collections of poems about growing up in the Newcastle area. This show we called 'The Changes that Change Us'.

 Catherine Graham and Yvonne Young at the NE1fm studio

On Saturday we welcomed Mandy Maxwell and AJ McKenna to speak about their personal changes; Mandy having battled through anorexia and mental health issues, AJ who is on the brink of gender reassignment, a journey which has been an ongoing process for many years while struggling to be 'normal' and finally 'coming out' as wanting to stop the charade and be who ze feels ze is.
We'd specially like to thank AJ and Mandy for their willingness to speak in public about their personal battles and for reading from their work. - Listen to the programme 'The Changes we Make' to find out more.

Thanks also to the BBC for their experiment in featuring local radio stations at the festival - it seems they were as pleased as we were and plan to do it again next year.
By the way, NE1fm was the only local station to broadcast live during the festival, so we were also very pleased about that.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

International Day of Peace --- and executions

- barring miracles, which we never want to bar...
21 September, the International Day for Peace and the day chosen by the State of Georgia to deliberately and with malice aforethough end the life of Troy Anthony Davis.
This evening we spoke with Sister Helen Prejean - author of Dead Man Walking, and The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions moments after she heard the news that Troy Davis' appeal for clemency had been denied.  We entered an unused classroom to avoid being disturbed, I set up the recorder and we sat there sharing a deep deep sadness for the last hours of a man's life. We talked about death row as a form of torture; of the pressure on victims' families to support the death penalty; of the families of victims in New Jersey who stood up and demanded an end to the death penalty in their state because it achieved nothing positive for anyone, least of all help them to get over the deaths of their loved ones. We talked about Christians who oppose abortion yet support the death penalty... well, mostly she talked and I listened. Well worth hearing. Friday live from 4-6 in Newcastle and Gateshead on 102.5, online at and later in the evening (all things being equal) on

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Where did the summer go?

Hard to believe that we haven't posted any news since just before Lulu James came on the show. She just turned 21 last week and is now loaded with bling and handbags :-)
The whole summer (without the sun) flashed by and circumstances haven't given us the chance to sit down and put our feet up - but we made special programmes for George Jackson, and Attica - so many major anniversaries in the past few weeks.

This week's show was dedicated entirely to the impending execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. There are lots of petitions that can be signed to try to save his life. It turns out that the DA also has the power to request the judge to withdraw the execution warrant, so all is not lost. On Monday he will have one more hearing where it is hoped new evidence can be brought in - not least that 7 of 9 witnesses have retracted their testimony which was clearly co-erced by the police.

Here are links for more information and to the petitions:

Please read about Troy's case and sign the petitions - spread the news to your friends. Saying 'oops' afterwards if they execute an innocent man.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Lulu James

We have just turned a year old and we are excited to be having a special guest on the next, the 52nd show - the wonderful singer Lulu James.

 Be sure to listen in at 4 on Friday for this. 102.5 in Newcastle/Gateshead and online at

Later - all things being equal - we'll post the podcast on Podomatic.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Gains and Losses

Losing Gil Scott-Heron is sad in that we will not see any new work from him, but what he has left us is such an incredibly rich seam of poetic and musical history, a fount of inspiration from which we can sup for many many years to come. Thank you Gil for many lessons learned.

The next Celestial Navigation is on June 3 - birthday of the wonderful Curtis Mayfield, so we will have the pleasure of broadcasting for the first time a 30-minute interview with Curtis made for A Love Supreme Broadcasts in Amsterdam. We will also bring you interviews with Gil Scott-Heron made for the same radio show in Amsterdam. These interviews have never been heard on UK radio before, so tune in on Friday at 4!
NE1fm, 102.5fm in Newcastle/Gateshead, online at  or later on as a podcast on Podomatic

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Susan Dobson

This week's show at 4pm on Friday 8 April will include a trek across the Mountains of Inspiration with Susan Dobson.
Susan's exhibition is on at the Gateshead Library until the end of the month, and on Saturday she'll be giving a talk from 11am, starting in the gallery and moving upstairs.

The prints are stunning depictions of mountains - mainly in the Himalayas where she went earlier this year, with few of Cumbria and of Skye.

Join us on a journey in Nepal - Friday, 4pm on NE1fm 102.5 fm in the Newcastle/Gateshead area or online via the website.

If you're not able to listen to the live broadcast, the podcast will be uploaded later on Friday evening:

Don't miss the exhibition - it is inspiring!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Gateshead International Jazz Festival

Had a brilliant weekend at the Jazz Festival.
First I attended a workship by Cleveland Watkiss. It was intended for young people between 12 and 21, so I felt right at home! What a great 90 minutes that was. Looking back it's amazing to see the amount of ground he covered and what there was to learn. I even managed to sing and improvise a bit, which was huge fun. Afterwards he was kind enough to give me a 15 minute interview, in spite of being ready for his siesta.

In the evening he took part in a programme called Word Up, where he performed one set, Zena Edwards another and Napoleon Maddox a third.  You should really look for all these artists on you tube or wherever you can find them. Finally they performed an improvised piece together, combining their unique styles of words and music.

On Sunday Zena Edwards kindly sat down with me under the stairs on one of the balconies (the only place we could find which was relatively quiet and where we wouldn't be disturbed) and gave a good interview of at least a quarter of an hour. We could have gone on for ages - actually we did, but the rest was off mic. Later she had a gig in Sunderland and I was able to tag along and record part of that performance and make more photos.
Zena is a very special poet who uses words and music to weave a spell on her audience. In Sunderland a fairly rowdy group was mesmerised by her performance. Let's hope she can come up to the North East more often so that more people can get to hear her wonderful poetry.

This week's Celestial Navigation on Friday will be based around the themes of Breath and the Voice and will include both the interviews mentioned here, together with work by all three artists, Zapp Mama, Sweet Honey in the Rock and lots more a capella music.
PLUS......... special guest poet, Sheree Mack.
Don't miss it!  4pm on Friday 1 April (too late for jokes) on 102.5fm locally or online at
If you're not able to listen at that time, watch out for the podcast which will be uploaded later on Friday evening -

Friday, 18 March 2011

Jimmy Dennis

Jimmy Dennis has been on death row in SCI Greene in Pennsylvania since 1992. The case against him is about as flimsy as a diaphanous nightgown - and yet on Monday March 14 his death warrant was signed and his execution date scheduled for May 10.
Here we are not going into the whole case which is well-documented elsewhere. Instead we will try to give as many websites and contact information as we can.

First, join the Facebook page of the CCADP - Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Tracy Lamourie and Dave Parkinson who run the CCADP have been campaigning for Jimmy since 1998. - there is a petition on this site - PLEASE SIGN! - plenty of links and sound files here

You can write to Jimmy (your letter will be read before he gets it and probably no enclosures are allowed - with the possible exception of US postage stamps - check first)

Jimmy A. Dennis  BY7796
175 Progress Drive
Waynsburg, PA 
15370-8090 USA
We will add more information as it comes to us.
More information on the Death Penalty in the US

There are also a number of Facebook pages - including the Innocence Project where you can get current information and ask questions.

Even the police in the US agree that the death penalty does nothing to reduce murder rates.
Even Stevie Wonder can see that executing a person does not bring the victim back.
Keeping a person in jail for life is way way cheaper than going the execution route.
Face it - the death penalty is doing no-one any good.

Listen to the programme we made for Jimmy today and hear how the people who are part of the execution team feel after witnessing 30, 50, 70, 100, 130 state murders.

Jimmy has been given a stay of execution, so now he can launch an appeal. This judge will have the power to order him a new trial, or he could simply throw the case out and set Jimmy free. Keep up the pressure and let's hope he will be free to be with his little girls soon!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

International Womens Day - links

In the last half hour or so of the March 11 programme we played a series of interviews made at International Women's Day events in Newcastle and Gateshead.
I promised to post the links, so here they are.

The Newcastle event was organised by the Co-Op together with Daisy Green, and the Gateshead event by Gateshead Council - both were very enjoyable and informative. (and the ice-cream at the Newcastle event was totally delicious).

Daisy Green
took part in both events and organised clothes swaps which were a great success

North-East Organic Growers
grow organic vegetables and deliver veg packages to link people in a wide area around the North-East. they also sell fruit and eggs (and yummy honey!)
or - perhaps a better page -

Fair Squared 
sell ethical, fair-trade items such as sneakers, chutneys, soaps and condoms

Surf & Silver
Emma Harbottle and her daughters collect sea glass from local beaches and turn it into beautiful jewellery which is sold in some local outlets and on Facebook. Outlets sought in Durham!

sell beautiful eithically traded products from India, including quilts, bags, candles scarves and jewellery

There were other craft sellers at the Newcastle event and a nice collection of small businesses run by women at the Gateshead event - so good to see people following their passions and working to help others.

You can hear the programme on

Saturday, 5 March 2011

World Book Night and other Days

I wish I could celebrate World Book Night with a happy heart instead of this heavy feeling. A few years ago we were up in arms at the fact that in some countries in Europe 300,000 books were being pulped every week because of over-production. This year, for World Book Night an extra one million books have been printed in order to give them away free... to 'encourage reading'. Well hooray - why not stop a couple of truckloads of books on their way to the pulpers and give those books away free instead?

Borderline Books (dot org) was set up 10 years ago to do exactly that - to ask publishers and libraries not to throw books out but to donate them so they can be redistributed amongst people who have no money for books. Thousands of books have been given free in the Netherlands and the UK to organisations working with the homeless, with refugees, abused women and children, former prisoners, youth clubs, community centres, organisations for the elderly....
The idea of printing an extra million books specially to give them away just seems like some mad publicity campaign from someone who has no idea about the book trade - yet it was thought up by a publisher.

Well... I will probably go to the event so I can grumble and hand out leaflets about Borderline Books!

And there is so much going on this week for International Womens Day, it's very hard to choose. Interesting to see on the website for IWD that there seem to be more events in the UK than in any other country... or perhaps just more in the UK who reigstered their events. Who knows. Good that people are paying attention anyway.
- Let's remember garment workers all over the world, and those Tibetan nuns sitting in prison for their faith - and women in IT who earn 23% less than their mail counterparts.

Who said we won equality?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

LGBT History Month

February in the UK is designated as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month. The idea came from the US, where LGBT history month is celebrated in October - when the UK celebrates Black History month... right now it is Black History month in the US...

It is certainly a good chance to focus (again) on how 'everything' assumes that the average person is white and heterosexual and completely ignores the delicious diversity of humanity.  I believe the anti-gay lobby is far stronger in the US, where  tub-thumping right-wing Christianity is also so loud. Those anti-abortionists who believe in the death penalty...

A Human Rights mailing list I am signed up to sent some information about conscious shopping - this time not on where the goods are sourced or how the workers in other countries are treated, but on how companies stand on workplace equality. Most of the companies are American, but some are international:

From clothing to computers to kids' stuff, from the latest hairstyles to the grocery aisles, we've collected data on hundreds of businesses. And some of the differences between companies selling similar products and services might surprise you:
Macy’s (100%) vs. Saks (30%*)
Staples (100%) vs. Office Depot (45%)
Nike (100%) vs. Adidas/Reebok (15%*)
UPS (100%) vs. FedEx (80%) vs. DHL (30%*)

Of course there's an app for your expensive phone, but unfortunately no app that I know of to make people treat others as human beings no matter what.

Sunday, 30 January 2011


I have been struck by the fact that in the New Cross fire, which we remembered last week and the Bloody Sunday shootings mentioned this week, 13 people died at the time and 1 a little later. In the case of Bloody Sunday it was a few months later, in New Cross more than a year... And in both these events most of the victims were no more than teenagers.

The New Cross victims ranged from 15-22 years old
Andrew Gooding, aged 18
Owen Thompson, aged 16
Patricia Johnson, aged 15
Patrick Cummings, aged 16
Steve Collins, aged 17
Lloyd Hall, aged 20
Humphrey Geoffrey Brown, aged 18
Roseline Henry, aged 16
Peter Campbell, aged 18
Gerry Paul Francis, aged 17
Glenton Powell, aged 15
Paul Ruddock, aged 22
Yvonne Ruddock, aged 16
Anthony Berbeck, aged 20, died after falling from the balcony of a block of council flats in South London on July 9, 1983. He was at the party and became mentally disturbed following the death of his best friends.

The majority of the Bloody Sunday victims were in the same age-group
Patrick ('Paddy') Doherty (31) 
Gerald Donaghy (17)
John ('Jackie') Duddy (17)
Hugh Gilmour (17)
Michael Kelly (17)
Michael McDaid (20)
Kevin McElhinney (17)
Bernard ('Barney') McGuigan (41)
Gerald McKinney (35)
William ('Willie') McKinney (26)
William Nash (19)
James ('Jim') Wray (22)
John Young (17)

John Johnston (59) was shot twice on 30 January 1972 and died on 16 June 1972. His family is convinced that he died prematurely and that his death was due to the injuries received and trauma he underwent on 'Bloody Sunday'.

In both cases a very sad loss of young lives and while the circumstances were very different, the parallels are striking.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Births, deaths and disasters....

Well, we managed to mention all but one event on the list published yesterday - the 1967 space-craft fire. Somehow we remembered Challenger, said happy birthday to Etta James, Angela Davis and Jose Marti, remembered Zora Neale Hurston - and heard her singing, and Coretta Scott King, who had championed gay rights, unlike her daughter Bernice...
A song by Ewan MacColl commemorated the hanging of Derek Bentley - who took the punishment for the crime committed by his friend who, at the time was only 16 and therefore too young to suffer capital punishment. It took until 1998 before he was given a complete (posthumous) pardon after the family had campaigned for 45 years.

We heard excerpts of interviews and speeches by Angela Davis speaking about the prison-industrial complex.
For more information on the subject check out Critical Resistance
For more on Angela Davis see the Wikipedia article

We heard some reports of the Bloody Sunday killing of protesters by British soldiers ... and denial that they had not been fired on first.. a fact that was clearly disproved in a report last year.  And finally some documents and music to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz.

Let's hope we can be a little more cheerful next week. We will have entered the Year of the Rabbit and in the UK we celebrate LGBT history month, while in the US it will be Black History month.
Plenty of opportunities for positive stories, great poetry and wonderful music. Who knows, maybe this sliver from a prediction page about life in the Year of the Rabbit will prove right: For once, it may seem possible for us to be carefree and happy without too many annoyances.

This week's radio programme is on

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Last week of January

So many anniversaries this week...

Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January)
Bloody Sunday (30 January)

Jose Marti (28 January 1853)
Etta James (25 January 1938)
Angela Davis (26 January 1944)

Derek Bentley hanged for a murder he did not commit  28 January 1953 (pardoned 30 July 1998)

Zora Neale Hurston (28 January 1960)
Coretta Scott King (30 January 2006)

2 Astronauts killed in a fire in their Apollo spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Centre (27 January 1967)
Break-up of space shuttle Challenger on lift-off with the loss of 7 lives (28 January 1986 )

Will we be able to touch on all of these in 90 minutes?

Last year's interviews

Peggy Seeger...
Peggy gave us an interview by telephone prior to her appearance at the Sage Gateshead in November. A week later she appeared at Reeth Memorial Hall in Yorkshire. In both settings, she shone as a great musician with a delightful sense of humour - and as a highly accessible, loving human being.

 Poet and broadcaster Ian MacMillan generously gave us more than 30 minutes of his time during the Free Thinking Festival at the Sage Gateshead, run by BBC Radio 3. We sat in the library and talked about poetry in prisons, young people and poetry and never quite got to discussing why so many Yorkshire towns begin with B.

During that same Free Thinking Festival we managed to grab a quick interview in a very noisy green room with Soweto Kinch - saxophonist extraordinaire. Fingers crossed that we may be able to speak with him again when he comes up for the Gateshead Jazz Festival.

The evening before, there was a recording of 'Vultures', a new radio play by Roy Williams at the Baltic. After the recording he kindly did an interview during which he spoke, amongst other things, about whether or not it was important for black children to grow up seeing images of themselves in literature, and the need for retaining Black History Month. 

ps, this photo was borrowed from the London Evening Standard... can't think why I didn't take one myself - all the other photos are mine.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Story so Far

Celestial Navigation has been broadcasting on NE1fm in Newcastle / Gateshead (UK) since July 2010.

The programme goes out live on air on 102.5fm locally and online from - Fridays 16.00-17.30, local time. Podcasts are then available later on Friday evenings at where you will also find the playlists.

On this blog we will post additional information about the topics covered, together with important addresses and phone numbers.

You will have the chance to write comments here or on Podomatic - we welcome positive feedback and suggestions.

We have featured interviews with Peggy Seeger, Soweto Kinch, Ian MacMillan and Jak Beula.  To date we have made 26 programmes, the last one honouring the memory of all those affected by the New Cross fire in 1981.