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Recalling racy days in limelight.

AT the tender age of 10, Cindy Lightburn knew a life in the limelight was for her.

Performing as one of Joyce Wright's "dancing babes" in the 1962 centenary celebrations of the Blaydon Races anthem, Cindy fell in love with the stage.

The event was a huge affair at the time and with a star-studded local line-up was held at Newcastle's City Hall.

Although a young Cindy appeared, she says, as a horse, the experience whetted her appetite for the enchanting world of showbusiness.

"I moved over here from Ireland when I was eight or nine and joined Miss Moody's Dance School, in Wingrove Gardens, Fenham," she says. "I already knew all of the words to the Blaydon Races before we moved, because my father was a Geordie.

"That show was really how it all started. It had a profound effect on me and after it, I carried on with dancing and eventually, my friend Kathy Scott became my dancing partner." Cindy's stage debut served her well, for at the age of 19, she would be belting out the beloved northern song in a frilly Can Can frock, four nights a week.

Recruited as a resident dancer at one of the city centre's most successful nightspots - Balmbra's - Cindy recalls the music hall's heyday with genuine affection. So much so, she has compiled a souvenir book about it.

"I know that apart from what went on behind the scenes, Balmbra's still holds a special place in a lot of folks' hearts with numerous family celebrations having been held there," she says, adding: "Birthdays, engagements, weddings, leaving parties - you name it - we had 'em.

"For the audience, it was an escape from the mundane. I mean, where you could see the Can Can performed outside of Paris's Moulin Rouge, hear top comedians like Dickie Irwin and Bobby Thompson, singers like Alec Davis, who I'll swear sang Delilah better than, as we used to say, 'Tom who?' "Marlene Dietrich impersonator Edna Selkirk, who religiously stuck to her traditional music hall repertoire despite my pleas that she should include Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, but instead sang it softly to us girls backstage, to our delight.

"Jean Southern, Helen Russell, Gwen Doran and Mary Reynolds, who sang their hearts out, and many more who regarded working there as a labour of love.

"Once upon a time, just about anyone you spoke to had visited Balmbra's and that's why I'm producing the souvenir book, because Balmbra's will always be there, at least in the form of Geordie's song, Blaydon Races, and I, for one, am very grateful for that."

Famed for its traditional entertainment, Balmbra's was a thriving city centre hub and the place to go in the 70s.

From dancers to comedians, the venue even had its own in-house photographers.

"Kathy had worked at Balmbra's for a long time before I did," Cindy explains. "When you are a dancer though, you cross paths with many other dancers at various shows and one night, when I walked into the hall, the owner, Ernie Malcolm, said to me, 'You're the very person I want to speak to'."

It turned out one of the resident Can Can girls was leaving to have an operation and her dancing shoes needed to be filled.

Cindy stepped in and ended up working as a dancer at Balmbra's for the next eight years.

"I think I was only 19 or 20 at the time," she says. "The show had already been running for around eight or nine years when I started."

Cindy worked as a Can Can dancer from Wednesdays to Saturdays every week, entertaining a crowded house with the cheeky Parisian routine.

"We finished with the Blaydon Races every evening. That was the show's finale," she says.

"We weren't paid a fortune, but we all enjoyed working there. It wasn't all plain sailing, but we knew it was different. It was always full, there were very few nights when it wasn't busy. "At the time I was there, Keith Wilson took over the running of it, and he ran it like clockwork. He knew what people wanted and it was very successful. It couldn't have been more so.

"It was a real 70s place, very much of its time and a very popular place to go. Anybody and everybody had heard of it. But times have changed and I'm just very glad I was a part of it.

"I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone, past and present, who've given their time and artistry - and especially to those who have contributed photographs, many of which were taken by resident photographer Dave Harrison, and other items.

"I couldn't have done this without them."

Cindy's new book, Geordie's Song, will be on sale in Waterstone's bookshop, in Blackett Street, Newcastle city centre, from the end of May. Her exhibition of Balmbra's Music Hall memorabilia will also be on display in Newcastle's Central Library from May 15, to mark the 150th anniversary of when Geordie Ridley first sang his composition, Blaydon Races, at the venue in early June, 1862.

Do you have a story for Remember When? If so, get in touch. Email vicky. or call 0191 201 6405.


LOOKING BACK Above Kathy and Cindy now, top right Edna Sekirk at Balmbras, right, Cindy with Dick Irwin CAN CAN ATTITUDE Kathy and Cindy shake a leg in these pictures from their career
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 30, 2012
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