Words from Christy Moore as the Clock Winds Down to climate change disaster
Cover Story (34): Blues Run the Game. Jackson C Frank, Bert Jansch or Martin Simpson

Music from North Eastern England: (1) Lindisfarne, the Mighty Doonans, Terry Conway and Marie Little

November 2021 update: I was really pleased with this series and could have kept it going for ever. Music from North Eastern England is dear to my heart and soul. I repeat the first instalment now because for the next week, there will be no updates at Salut! Live. I am off to Venice to mark 50 years of marriage to the wonderful Joelle Marie Simone Poupard, who is coming too. She's as French as the name suggests but we met and courted in County Durham after her arrival as an au pair.

And I love her so much that I have agreed to leave the phone in the hotel and indulge in no social media all week. Back soon ... and this is the link to the series in full: https://www.salutlive.com/music-from-north-eastern-england/



Colin et joelle - 1



Born in Hove, where people usually go to die, I've lived in five parts of London (Kenton, Uxbridge, Harrow, Rayners Lane and Ealing), two areas of Bristol (Downend and Westbury Park), France city and coast (Paris and Le Lavandou) and Abu Dhabi.

But which of them do I consider home? None. It may seem desperately sad to my cosmopolitan friends, not to mention family, that I have never quite shaken off the feeling that the North East of England remains where I'm truly from. That, however, is how it is.

The Hove aberration lasted for only the first few months of my life. I spent the next 23 years in County Durham. Most of the people I feel closest to originate or even still live there or not far from it. My football team's there (that's a bit of licence to be honest, but Sunderland was still part of Co Durham up until soon after I moved away) and - if I can forget how many from the North East voted for Brexit, the most ruinous project of my lifetime - I love the resilience, spirit and music of the region.


Durham Cathedral from the south Teach46, CC BY 3.0

 The splendour of Durham. What do the NE singer Jez Lowe and Sunderland's former midfielder Lorik Cana (an Albanian) have in common? Both adore the cathedral


Now on to that music ...

ALL ITEMS IN THIS SERIES CAN BE SEEN AT THE FOLLOWING LINK: https://www.salutlive.com/music-from-north-eastern-england/



Leave aside dollops of The Blaydon Races, Bobby Shafto and the Keel Row, and that advert for Newcastle Brown Ale based on Cushie Butterfield, a song I fondly but wrongly remembered as one of Tommy Armstrong's (see Comments, correctly identifying Geordie Ridley as the composer), my direct acquaintance with music originating in the North East of England began with amateurs getting up in smoke-filled back, side or upstairs rooms in pubs, starting with the Folk Workshop at the Golden Cock in Darlington.


Unearthed at YouTube: Lindisfarne bemuse New Yorkers with the Newcastle Brown Ale song in 1972

Guitars were discouraged, along with a number of other instruments considered contrary to the folk tradition but lads - and it was almost always lads as the only female singers I remember seeing there were such guest professionals as Maddy Prior and Toni Arthur - would belt out the songs of the British Isles, including those of impeccable regional pedigree.

In clubs that adopted a less purist approach, and in other performance settings, I came to see a lot more of the singers and musicians who enriched the folk scene from the mid-to-late 1960s onwards. We'd sing along with Irish rebel songs and watch the blues played and sung by pale-faced locals, contemporary folk (I recall some snootiness about anything from  Simon and Garfunkel’s repertoire) and visiting stars of a flourishing nationwide scene. 

The High Level Ranters were the first band of the North East to enthral me. Their full, exuberant sound was the equal of the great music emanating in Ireland and Scotland at the time and the individual members - I recall Alistair Anderson, Tommy Gilfellon, Johnny Handle and Colin Ross but others including Louis Killen were there, too, at different times - would also appear solo in duos at folk clubs, the Darlington one among them.

The region produced an Irish-flavoured band, the Reivers, the Northern Front with their stunning mix of superior music and uproarious Geordie and Wearside humour, family ensembles - the Elliots of Birtley, the Wilsons, Doonans, Sheehans and more - and solo performers. Among the latter I have fond memories of Marie Little, who moved from Lancashire to make her home in Sunderland, and of course the late Vin Garbutt.

Vin is for later. Marie appears here with an enchanting track from her very good first album. She was enchanting, too (I remember one man being so smitten that he painted a gorgeous portrait of her),  and I am sure still is. You could say that kind of thing back then and Marie herself did not become so politically correct that she wouldn't call an album decades later Hot Pants to Hot Flushes.

When I interviewed Marie in 2008 - with a quickfire Q&A bolted on - she said: "I am one of those lucky people who could die tomorrow and have no regrets. I would not change anything (even the bad stuff in life helps you grow as a person). I have never been ambitious but opportunities have come to my door and I have accepted them and had a wonderful time. "

I still think the world of her. 

In that interview, Marie said when asked for her own musical preferences: "... for fab entertainment you can't whack The Doonans or New Rope String band."

I confess to knowing nothing of the New Rope String Band. The Doonans I love, for their Irish treatment of rock and soul, the rock treatment of Irish songs and all the energetic bursts of Irish dancing from the Doonettes (another thing you could say back then). I used to call them Geordie-Irish but at least one of the women who danced with them assured me she was a proper Mackem (and therefore a Sunderland supporter).

Here's the Tender Coming is a gripping Tyneside tale of men being press-ganged into naval service. The Doonans' live version is one of so many that the song could feature in a future edition of Cover Story

In a further edition of this little series, or maybe Cover Story, I will discuss the Unthanks' beautiful reading of the late Terry Conway's Fareweel Regality - and his own For now, I will  honour the memory of its composer, singjng the Sandgate Lad in the company of Johnny Handle, Benny Graham and Vic Gammon at the Bridge Hotel, a celebrated Newcastle folk venue.



Have I whetted the appetite? I hope so. The North East has many more musical treasures to enjoy and I shall endeavour to share some of them on these pages. I even promise to come up with something more substantial from Lindisfarne than the Newcastle broon ale song (good jingle, though I’ve no liking for the beer it advertises) ...


Bill Taylor

Whetted the appetite? I'll say! Love the old club atmosphere of Terry Conway et al doing the Sandgate Lad. Marie Little's Dark Island is lovely, too. I've heard her but know little about her. And I knew nothing about the Doonans. I'd never heard Here's the Tender Coming, either. A great song wonderfully sung. As an aside, once again I'm pleasantly surprised by Spotify's wide range. I just went on, expecting to draw a blank but finding The Mighty Doonans album. I'll explore that further in a while; for now I've downloaded their amazing interpretation of Ee Aye Aa Cud Hew.
Great memories of some of the people you mentioned, when they played at the Aclet Hotel, including Alan Hull of Lindisfarne. That's the best version of the Newcastle Brown Ale song I've ever heard, including the one Johnny Handle used to sing at the end of the night when he was at the Aclet, invariably ticking off the landlady, Sybil Livesey, because it was a Cameron's house.
It was only a few years after Lindisfarne's 1972 gig that Newcastle Brown (or Journey Into Space as it was sometimes known) was quite widely available in New York. It became a very well-travelled beer. I was in Chengdu in central China in the late 1990s and the city not only had a Holiday Inn but the bar had Newcastle Brown. I wouldn't attempt to sing it but here is the full TV commercial song (originally done, I think, by Owen Brannigan, who was a Geordie but often didn't sound like on) rendered in Mandarin Chinese:

Dave Sutherland

Tommy Armstrong the writer of "Cushie Butterfield"? a great songwriter but I think you'll find that the authorship of that particular song belongs to another great North Eastern songwriter Geordie Ridley.

Colin Randall

I was certainly wrong, Dave, and you are right. I have amended the reference. Thanks for pointing it out.

Brian Bennison

Draft of appreciation of Terry Conway in North East History Vol 47 2016
Terry Conway Folksinger, Songwriter, and Working Man, 1943-2013

Brian Bennison

The spontaneous outpouring of affection that swamped a packed Newcastle Crematorium at the end of Terry Conway’s funeral on 14 June 2013 was repeated two years later at a memorial concert at a sold-out Queen’s Hall in Hexham. It was one of Terry’s finest compositions, FareweelRegality, with everyone joining in the chorus, which provided the movingclimax on both occasions. A song about parting and exile, it is rooted in a particular time and place but carries within it a timeless resonance.1 It was first recorded by Terry on Kathryn Tickell’s 1998 album, then taken up by the Unthanks, and has since found its way into recordings in Australia and New Zealand. The song opens as below. The use of the vernacular is no affectation on Terry’s part, but reflects the pronunciation used by those
amongst whom he lived and earned a livelihood.

And now it’s time to say fareweel, though Aa hope that we may meet again,
And aal things may be reet again, we’ve lived and spent the day.

And we’ll cry fareweel Regality, and cry fareweel the Liberty,
To honest friend civility, to winter’s frost and fire,
And there’s nowt that Aa could bid yer,
But that peace and love gan with yer,
Never mind wherever caal the fates,
Away from Hexhamshire.

Written only three decades ago, Fareweel Regality is sometimes taken to be a much older work, a compliment to Terry’s ability to utilise his deep appreciation of the history and music of his native Northumberland. His adult life was spent working outdoors across the county and a further verse of the song captures the authentic voice of the labouring man fearing he may have to leave the land he loves:

And as Aa set the mossy stanes, and de me bits o’ jobs and gaff the dykes,
Aa hear the whisper down the sykes, fareweel, they sigh, fareweel.

Terry – strictly speaking, Shaun Terence – Conway was born in the maternity unit at Dilston Hall, alongside the Devil’s Water at Corbridge. His parentsmoved shortly afterwards to Southport, but he returned to Tynedale as a four-year-old with his mother. He left school at fifteen to work in a garagebefore joining an uncle in his building firm. Then for thirty years he was employed as a roadman for Northumberland County Council, and after early retirement in 1998 became a jobbing gardener.
Terry began to perform, somewhat reluctantly at first, at Hexham Folk Club at the beginning of the 1970s. Raymond Greenoaken, who as a young man became a regular at Hexham, remembers first hearing Terry at Haltwhistle when he sang The Bowers of Satan from the floor. Raymond thinks this may have been his first shot at songwriting, though the song struck him as not the work of a novice, rhyming, as it did, ‘the oak and the ash’ with ‘the yoke and the lash’.2 Terry was a dependable resident at the Hexham club, always ready with a song or three. Raymond remembers a bottomless repertoire that consisted in large part of songs never heard from anyone else, including his own which were slipped in almost furtively.
Despite growing recognition by the folk cognoscenti, Terry remained very modest about his own talents and was disinclined to accept paid engagements. Faced with a concert or booking, Terry would say that he would only begin to enjoy it when the last note had died away. His idea of touring was to nip up to Newcastleton and Kinross once in a while to sing in traditional competitions. One of his favourite venues was the exit to the Wentworth Car Park in Hexham, where he would busk.
Terry was a lovely gentle man, but a ferocious autodidact. An expert on Border Ballads,Terry was recruited by the BBC when they needed singers to take part in a broadcast on Radio Three in May 1979. Again, when the organisers of the commemorative events celebrating the Hexham riot of 1761 wanted a song, it was to Terry they turned. Terry and his partner Liz wrote the piece together and were able to redress the balance of contemporary reports that restricted themselves to the authorities’ view of events. The Hexham Riot was performed by a community choir at the unveiling of a plaque in the town’s Market Place, where around fifty protesters were shot dead. It expressed the rioters’ view of a Militia Act that was ‘ill understood and thoroughly detested’.3
Terry’s knowledge of a wide range of subjects informed much of his songwriting and made him so much more than an outstanding traditional singer. He was, for example, keenly interested in military history; his friend and fellow singer Mike Tickell felt that Terry, a pacifist, knew more about regimental histories than anyone. The penultimate line of the chorus to Fareweel Regality, for example, references Quo Fata Vocant (Whither the Fates call), the motto of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Terry’s Ballad of Erwin Rommel became part of the repertoire of the highly respected Lou Killen, who called it a major ballad and performed it across the United States and Canada. When Pete Coe, with fifty years’ folksinging behind him, was asked which song he would have liked to have composed, he chose Terry’s The Walls of Troy. Pete judged it the ultimate anti-war song, which was also recorded by the House Band in the UK and by groups in Canada and California. In an ironic juxtaposition – following Mike Tickell’s obituary of Terry in the Guardian - an edition of Radio Four’s Last Word ended with a piece about Terry, having begun with a fulsome tribute to Sir Sandy Woodward GBE, KCB, Commander-in-Chief of the British Naval Task Force in the Falklands War.
Another favourite with Pete Coe’s audiences over many years is I DoNot Want to Lose You (Harry Wharton). Terry’s own presentation of his work was restrained, with little introduction and no exposition. Raymond Greenoaken believes that some titles were an afterthought, there being no need for them until Terry started recording. At times, listeners were required to come to their own conclusions about the precise subject matter of a song, and I Do Not Want to Lose You is a case in point. The song has a cryptic quality. It begins with an allusion to an innocent world of schooldays experienced principally, one imagines, via the work of Frank Richards rather than the Northumberland Education Committee. Part of the opening verse and chorus go as follows:

When the snap kicks and the scorn, made me wish I’d not been born,
You could make me think the world was all serene,
Oh what liberties were penned, how realities could bend,
In a world where you had been so long fifteen.

And I do not want to lose you Harry Wharton, my old chum
You were twice the man that I was, that’s for sure,
I could lean on you and feel myself secure
In a world that’s made of blood and sweat and iron.

As the song progresses, it moves into a more disturbing, unfriendly adult world, inviting speculation about its true meaning. Pete Coe, who has been performing the song to some acclaim since the early 1980s, admitted at Terry’s memorial concert that he still wasn’t sure what it was all about. The extract below suggests Hiroshima, the Cold War and nuclear threat.

And the fat boy they released on that doomsday in the east,
He’s the spectre at the feast and it’s him we have to pay,
For the iron hand is closing, Harry Wharton, my old chum,
It’s shaking all the stuffing from my brain
I will never sit here and talk with you again
For you go to pick up sides among the dying.

There was a serious, contemplative side to Terry, but he was equally capable of coming up with humorous songs. Hawkhope Hill, for example, deals with the building in less than perfect circumstances of a housing development to accommodate some of the residents rendered homeless by the creation of the Kielder Dam. Written on a timesheet on site at Falstone, the lyrics had to be recovered from the wages clerk.
Another bitingly funny composition came after an acquaintance mistakenly remarked that Terry sang country and western songs, so he thought he had better equip himself with one. Like many others, Terry probably subscribed to the view that there is little wrong with country music but the lyrics are somewhat problematical, and wrote a parody called the Cowboy Song. The opening verses and chorus are reproduced below. Familial tragedy is piled upon familial tragedy as the song captures perfectly the cloying sentimentality of the genre. Roy Harris said the song made his sides ache.4

My Daddy died last Thursday and the angels took his soul,
When my time is come I’ll meet him there,
But I’ve got my country music as I ride along the road,
And the tyres on my 12-wheeler hum a prayer.

And they say the Good Lord always has a reason,
For the things he does and good folks don’t ask why,
And if I met an angel as I ride along the road,
I’ll ask him why my daddy had to die.

My ma stepped off the sidewalk, stopped a streetcar with her ear,
She never took good care (‘cos she was bored),
The angels came and kicked her twice to see she was sincere,
And they took her hand in hand to meet the Lord.

Over the years Terry wrote almost seventy songs and an article of this length can only scratch the surface of his writing.5 But even if Terry had never composed a single song his interpretation of traditional songs from across the UK and Ireland would have still ensured his place as a gifted performer of some stature. Yet Terry was a modest, unassuming man. Raymond Greenoaken became aware almost forty years ago of how Terry would wring every drop of nuance out of a song without ever calling attention to his own expertise. Terry never liked making a fuss about anything, although he would occasionally permit himself a smile, a light sigh or a shake of the head. Terry’s main concern was that of the working man: to be reliable and give full value, whether it was performing, gardening or driving a snow plough.
Around twenty years ago, Terry formed a musical and personal partnership with singer and dulcimer player Liz Law (later Conway). It was Liz who persuaded him to take up offers of bookings, both within and outside the region, and encouraged him to record. A CD they did together was released in 2001 and a second in 2008. Terry sang four of his compositions on the 20-CD Northumberland Anthology project and also contributed to an album of Geordie Ridley songs. To coincide with the memorial concert of Terry’s songs in September 2015, a CD version of a tape-recording from 1992 was made available. Like the concert proceeds, monies from the CD were to be donated to Mesothelioma UK to help support research into the disease from which Terry died.
A year before he passed away, Terry, along with Liz and supported by Julie-Ann Morrison, recorded Songs for the North of England live at Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society. Terry had been unwell and was showing the advancing symptoms of the illness that was to take him from us, so the occasion was not without its stresses. But Terry, as he had done all his life, quietly got on with the job. And the occasion leaves us with a fitting image of Terry: singing alongside Liz in a library of 170,000 books.

Terry Conway can be heard on the following recordings. His singing of his Fareweel Regality can also be accessed on tps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcCLmqUIM9w.
Premier, Terry Conway and Liz Law (Stonehouse Music, 2001,SHMCD001)
Of Riots & Rabbits, Terry Conway and Liz Law (Stonehouse Music, 2008, SHMCD002)
Songs from the North of England, Terry Conway and Liz Law (Stonehouse Music, 2012, SHMCD003)
The Haydon Bridge Sessions, Terry Conway (Stonehouse Music, 2015,SHMCD004)
The Northumbrian Collection, Kathryn Tickell (Park Records, 1998, PRKCD 42)
The Northumbria Anthology, Various Artists (MWM, 2002, CDSP 31-50, vols 34, 36 & 37).
Gannin to Blaydon Races! The Songs of George Ridley, Various Artists (MWM CDSP 107)

I am grateful to Liz Conway, Mike Tickell and Raymond Greenoaken.
As fellow performers, their memories of, and thoughts about, Terry were
invaluable in preparing this appreciation

1 The Regality and Liberty were private jurisdictions in Hexhamshire that had been granted by Anglo-Saxon kings to favoured individuals. For an exhaustive, and exhausting, account see A. Hinds, History of Northumberland, Volume III,
Hexhamshire: Part 1 (1896), pp. 20-64.
2 It probably wasn’t Terry’s first composition, which was more likely to have been Lizzie Storey.
3 A. B. Wright, History of Hexham (Alnwick: W. Davison, 1823), p. 202. The military authorities found themselves short of manpower during the Seven Years’War (1756-1763) and so an Act was introduced to conscript men into the militia.
Hexham and the surrounding area became a focus for conscription efforts and a large gathering of local people gathered to protest. After the Riot Act was read and the protestors stood their ground, the North Yorkshire Militia opened fire. As well
as the dead, many more people were wounded.
4 Sadly, Roy Harris died while this appreciation was being prepared. For an indication of the standing of Roy Harris in folk music circles, see his obituary in the Guardian, 22 February, 2016.
5 Liz Conway has catalogued sixty-six of Terry’s songs but Terry was in the habit of recording his work on cassette tapes and passing them on, so there may be others not yet listed.

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