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Two John Norths: Vin Garbutt as remembered by Mike Amos

I make no apology for returning to Vin Garbutt, the magnificent and much-loved Teesside singer, songwriter and storyteller who died last week aged 69. Vin's widow Pat and the rest of the family have announced that the funeral will take place at Middlesbrough Cathedral, Coulby Newham, on Friday at noon, after which Vin will be laid to rest at Eston Cemetery. It is to my immense regret, having heard the recent BBC Tees interview with Vin (see below), that I while I knew he had previously been unwell, I was unaware of his recent major surgery and therefore not prompted - as were many - to renew contact with a man I had known, albeit mostly at long distance, for most of my life.
My own little tribute appears here and I am grateful that many more people than usually visit the pages of Salut! Live have seen it.
My friend, former colleague and journalistic mentor Mike Amos, an award-winning if now semi-retired columnist for The Northern Echo knew Vin well. One of Mike's regular features was John North, a beautifully written daily look at North-eastern people and ways; the clip you see above is how Vin, in his own way with his song The Land of Three Rivers (John North), also captured the region's essence. Features Mike has written about Vin in the past appear to have fallen off that part of the world that is the Echo website.
But this is from Mike's own site, Grass Routes (well worth a read for anyone interested in the people of the North East: it calls itself "thumbs-up journey with North-east football folk" but is actually much more than that). It was published on the day of Vin's death, June 6 ...

Vin Garbutt, of whom the English Folk Song and Dance Society once said that he should be prescribed on the National Health, [has] died.

Usually identified as a folk singer, winner of the BBC Best Live Act award in 2001, he was in truth a brilliant all-round entertainer and a hugely funny man.

Teesside University gave him an honorary degree. That’s the lad, gowned and mortared, below.


He was born in South Bank, his father a sergeant major and his mother an Irish Catholic. “Until things got a bit greener, I always thought that a catalytic converter was an Irish missionary,” he liked to say.

His hair resembled Samson’s before that unfortunate business with Dalilah, his jumpers could have been bequeathed by the late Bobby Thompson, his crack was a cross between the Little Waster and the Big Yin.

I’d last chatted to him at Darlington Folk Club just before Christmas, when he was clearly unwell. “Anyone got a defibrillator?” he asked the audience, and it was audiences which reinvigorated him. “It’s the adrenaline, performing is fantastic,” he said.

He’d had heart problems for years, told the Darlington crowd of an appointment with his consultant at the James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough.

The doc pondered Vin’s notes. “There’s a folk singer lives around here with the same name as you,” he said.

“If you don’t get a move on there won’t be much longer,” said Vin.

He’d been told that a diseased valve would be replaced by the equivalent bit of a pig, was finally given a mechanical replacement when major surgery was carried out in April. “The pig might have been disgruntled,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Vin wrote almost all his own songs. At Darlington they begged him to do the one – a true story – about a ship which, 20-or-so years earlier had run aground off the East Cleveland coast, where he lived. Inevitably it was looted, the cargo chiefly leisure shirts and boys pants with a Super Mario motif.

There were T-shirts for the husbands Sweat shirts for the wives And every kid in Skinningrove had underpants for life.

That he performed a great deal better than he looked recalls also the death in 1997 of Denis Weatherley, my old headmaster at Bishop Auckland Grammar School and himself a singer of international renown.

In later life we became friends. A few months before he died I bumped into him in Darlington, noted that he seemed pretty gaunt and remarked – as you do – how well he looked.

“Mike, there are three ages of man,” said Denis. “Youth, middle age and ‘By God you do look well’.”

He died a few months later while performing Swing Low Sweet Chariot with his son’s choir. They’d just reached the chorus about coming for to carry me home.

It was a poignant but perhaps a perfect way to go – and it was a reminder of another of those Latin maxims about which we’ve been writing. Carpe diem: seize the day.

See also:

* Vin Garbutt RIP: If the River Tees Could Sing, Vin Was Its Voice

** BBC Tees tribute:

*** Mudcat Forum members respond to Vin's death

**** Keith Hancock's tribute poem:
Vin Garbutt - Colossus with a heart of gold


Dave Tearney

I knew Vin for at least the last 45 years, a brilliant musician and entertainer but most of all a great friend, he will never be forgotten and missed by many.
R.I.P. Vin

Dave Tearney.

Colin Randall

Well said, Dave. Taken far, far too soon


The best song Vin wrote was .... Photographic Memory ......
I was in a Trio in the early 70s and we added this song in our repertoire .
Alan ... Sunderland ...

Colin Randall

The title doesn't ring a bell, but the song might once I look it up. Thanks, Alan

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