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Men of the North: Johnny Handle and a classic song from Ed Pickford

Every so often, the e-mail account opens to a message from Ed Pickford, known as a songwriter of the highest order to anyone of my generation from the North East who liked folk music. He sang solo, and way back with the Northern Front, and can be said to have contributed massively to the cultural landscape of the region; he also supports Sunderland AFC, which endears him to me all the more

Many of Ed's songs have been about the North East's great coalmining tradition. I have had my say often enough on the destruction of the industry; Thatcher played a cruel part but it was no matter for mourning to see the end of an age that had seen men and boys sent down the pit to earn a living. Back in the late 1960s, as a young reporter on local papers, I once or twice went down in the cage to write about the last shift at pits that were closing. To a man, the miners told me they were grateful their sons would not be following them down. There were, having said that other jobs to go to at the time. Inquests on men who had died from the "black lung" pit disease of pneumoconiosis were desperately sad and bleak affairs, but so frequent that they were barely reported. Ed's new song, which he sent me today, chronicles the life and times of Norman Cornish from Spennymoor, five miles from Shildon, Co Durham, where I grew up. Norman was a miner and also an artist. Ed calls the song Last of the Pitman Painters [No Motor Cars in his Spennymoor Town] and it is sung and played here by my old friend Johnny Handle, an impressively sprightly 79. Bravo to the pair of them and RIP Norman Cornish who died on August 1, aged 94.


Geoff Heslop

Hello Colin, Ed Pickford sent me your link. I wanted to send you a copy of our (Ribbon Road) new CD but don't have an address for you. The album was made to mark 30 years since the Miner's Strike of 1984/5. You can check us out on You will remember me from the old Rubber Records and Black Crow days, Cheers, Geoff Heslop


I do indeed, Geoff. Can you email me at [email protected] and I will give you my address - back from France to the UK for hibernation next week so something to look forward to

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