An abundance of Interesting Items at the Rainbird Auction

What enormous fun to collect together the work of North East artists for our forthcoming art auction. This will help the funding of our Cloud Nine play Rainbird, The Tragedy of an Artist and the artists have been incredibly generous supporting a piece of theatre about one of their own.

Someone has donated a Rainbird original, another has created his own portraits of the North Shields painter – one in acrylic, one in pencil, while a third has offered up an actual ‘rain bird’ – a mobile-cum-hanging of a wooden bird with inlaid broken china and glass bead raindrops falling alongside.

Some donations are extraordinary – Liz Maynard’s work is seven foot long and needs two to carry; nine rows each of three large ceramic tiles mounted on wood and recreating scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry. Dave Young, who is acting in the play has given us probably the most unusual item, a genuine Brazil football shirt, signed by Pele and beautifully framed and mounted. It is said to be worth £500.

Somewhat culturally different, but no less interesting is a full cartoon strip donated by the graphic artist Davey Jones who works for the famous, at times scurrilous North East Magazine Viz. One of Davey’s Viz characters is Johnnie Fartpants (little further explanation required) and this original strip, hand drawn in ink, is signed by its creator.

We have had enquiries from would-be bidders from as far away as Bristol, on of whom wants to bid over the phone while the auction takes place – you could almost think you were in Sotherby’s.

The auction promises to be a colourful affair, run as it is by the inimitable auctioneer Bertie Foster, a flamboyant highly entertaining character known to break off suddenly to play the spoons.

There’s a licensed bar, nibbles, plus live music from singer Dave Robson. And entry is free. More than 30 auction lots and a rare chance both to pick up a real bargain and support the play.

The Rainbird Auction is at The Exchange, North Shields, 7.30pm on Sunday Feb 25th.








Rainbird Completed-The Playwright’s View

Cloud Nine’s artistic director PETER MORTIMER  muses on finishing the Rainbird play.

As one writer once said about ‘completed’ work, it is ‘never finished, only abandoned.’

How true that is!  Writing the play about the tragic North Shields painter Victor Noble Rainbird has consumed me over a two year period.

Its completion you might think would be a cause for dancing in the streets, releasing generous quantities of coloured balloons and wearing a large silly hat.

Instead of which I find myself silently asking, who are the twenty-five characters on these pages?  Will anyone be remotely interested in them?  Will the actors be performing to rows of empty seats?  Or, just as bad, to ensuing loud raspberries from the critics (should any critics bother to turn up)?

Against this, there is the silent sense of satisfaction to print off the script, hold that wadge of pages in my hand and know that not single soul in the entire universe has created anything the same as this.  Which is not to say it is good or bad, just unique.  Contrary to common belief, the word ‘unique’ implies no other value judgement than it is not the same as anything else.  Every writer that has ever lived (with a few outrageously plagiaristic exceptions) can claim to be unique.

Rainbird cannot claim too much ‘uniqueness.’  The play is based on a real person, whereas most of my two dozen odd plays have been based on fictional characters.  It is fair to say I am generally more interested in people who have never lived than those who have, a fact which could explain several social shortcomings and a partial dislocation from reality.

Being tethered to a once-living person and one from hereabouts come to that, brings certain restrictions for a writer.  For a start turning Rainbird into an alien in act two, or having him fall in love with a tadpole (the kind of anarchic invention that can bring great job satisfaction) would be considered bad form. The time-line to Rainbird’s life, kindly provided for me by David Young, the great Rainbird aficionado, (without whose support this play could simply not have been written), gave me a rough structure.

But within that structure, a writer can travel boldly.  Thus the play also has a modern-day thread (Rainbird lived 1887-1936), based on an unpublished short story of mine about a newly discovered self-portrait from a forgotten painter.  A few characters have historical legitimacy, many others are invented.  Many scenes will never really have happened.  My few excursions into historical drama have shown me that here is no absolute ‘factual truth’ in theatre, only whether or not a finished play can claim to speak with a true voice.  Writers have to learn that while history is to be respected, it must never enslave us.  Hilary Mantel has written copiously about this.

Now all those characters who have been merely words on a page will begin to take a real shape as the play is cast.  Someone will dream up a design for the set. Director Neil Armstrong will bring his own vision to the work.  Lighting and sound will be worked out, costume, props.  What was for two years the amalgam of just me, a laptop and a small silent room, will now writhe restlessly to be properly born.

It is a transformation which, as ever, both thrills and terrifies me.  In theory few experiences in life should be as satisfying as a writer witnessing the opening night of his or her new play.

In reality, few experiences can compare with such damp palmed anxiety, such racing heart stress or the squeaky bottom obsession that it will all go horribly wrong.

And let’s face it – sometimes it does.

 Rainbird – The Tragedy of an Artist opens at The Exchange Theatre, North

Shields on Monday April 23rd.


The Tragedy of Rainbird


My first interest in the North Shields painter Victor Noble Rainbird came in July 2015 and the exhibition of his work at The Old Low Light Heritage Centre in his home town of North Shields.

There was also, at the same venue, a talk on the painter given by Dave Young, Rainbird aficionado and the man mainly responsible for the renewed interest in the artist.

Young raised more than £6,000 to give Rainbird a proper headstone at Preston Cemetery in North Shields where he had lain in a pauper’s grave for more than 80 years. A beautiful monument it is too, created by the sculptor Neil Talbot and containing images from many scenes and objects which Rainbird knew and painted so well.

So who was this man? And why the upsurge of interest?  And why am I moved to write a full length play about him?

Rainbird’s life was poignant, even tragic. He was born in the tough fishing port of North Shields in 1887 and such was his early creative promise as a young artist at school and college that in 1911 he was the only northerner to be accepted for the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where he went on to win several awards. A glittering future seemed to lay in store for Rainbird. But it didn’t quite work out that way.

He served in the Northumbrian  Fusiliers in  World War One, which he survived, though at a cost, suffering both from shell shock and mustard gas poisoning, part of that doomed young generation indelibly marked by the First World War. Rainbird was never the same again and though he continued to paint some fine work, his deteriorating health saw him turn to alcohol. Returned to his native North Shields he would often knock out quick paintings on pieces of card or whatever was at hand to fund his drink.

So prolific was he that many of the pubs in Shields – which in those days numbered hundreds  – had a handful of Rainbirds under the bar counter – a witness to his ‘trading’.

It was this prolific nature of his work, his need to churn  out  the paintings to supply his ‘basics’ that partly explains  his meagre reputation thus far. He was seen as a jobbing painter, though his best work is much more than that. Also, there was the much vaunted Cullercoats school of painters only three miles distant up the coast.  That small fishing village’s reputation as ‘Little Bohemia’was boosted by the famous US artist Winslow Homer living there for two years .North Shields’ artists tended to be overlooked.

Rainbird later developed cancer, his marriage fell apart and he died at the young age of 48 in 1936. In his final years he was living in Sunderland and two of his paintings had to be sold to pay for his funeral and bring his body back to his native town, after which he was condemned to his eighty years of obscurity  in a grave, of two roughly stuck together pieces of wood bearing his handwritten name.

Rainbird painted in oils and water-colours and created many pencil drawings.. His subject matter was varied; North Shields scenes, European cities, biblical stories, seascapes and  Greek mythology. One Northumbrian millionaire boasts of owning more than 300 of his paintings. He also created stained glass windows in several churches here and abroad. Newcastle has a school named after him. During the war he was commissioned to do drawings of enemy positions and peace time also brought him many commissions. Ironically, given it was the war that changed his life drastically, his last commission was

a portrait of Earl Hague, wartime commander of the British forces.

Writing the play will, I hope help establish Rainbird’s rightful reputation as a painter of real quality, one who was also often forced to, as it were, sing for his liquid supper.

Part of the process of creating the play involved me going to art classes the better to get inside the head of a painter – a unique experience.

Rainbird has lived inside my head for more than two years and I suspect will be there for a good while longer. To write a play about anyone, real or fictitious rarely works I find unless that same person can haunt you. It is a haunting a writer should welcome.


Peter’s painting (above)

The play Rainbird will be produced by Cloud Nine at The Exchange Theatre, North Shields in  April 2018.

To see examples of Rainbird’s work, just Google Victor Noble Rainbird.







A Post From Peter Mortimer

Read the latest from Peter about what Cloud Nine are currently involved in-

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