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/
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.
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) ...