It was impossible to grow up in the North East of England, love folk music and not know of the immense role of the Elliotts of Birtley in performing, nurturing and spreading that musical form.
To my immense regret, I never saw or met any of the family at their folk club or elsewhere.
A great friend of mine, Mike Sheehan, better known as Mick when performing and Michael to his Darlington-Irish family, was privileged to have fairly close acquaintance.
On Wednesday March 30, Mike will join many others at the Birtley Catholic Club to celebrate the life of Doreen Henderson, daughter of Jack Elliott, rightly regarded as a pivotal figure in the folk movement.
Doreen, who apparently gave proper meaning to the lazily over-used adjective "feisty", has just died at the grand age of 94.
Here are Mike's thought which shall serve as Salut! Live's tribute to a clearly remarkable woman ... Ken Wilson, from the renowned Wilson Family of a cappella singers, kindly consents to the use of his the sketch of Doreen and her husband, Bryan:
Mike Sheehan's words came in successive e-mails: First Doreen Henderson (nee Elliott) died last week.
By all accounts she was very much like her father Jack, who I never met personally, but I have recordings of him and all the Elliotts from the early 60s talking and singing.
I think it was recorded by Alan Lomax. Doreen also gave me some old videos a while back,
One was called A Miner's life, recorded by the BBC, about her father Jack. Another (also recorded for the BBC) by Bert Lloyd, during the earlier years at Birtley.
I’m on that recording with my dad playing. I have no memory whatsoever of the recording being made, so it was a surprise when she gave it to me about 12 years ago.
One of the very first concerts I ever went to see up in Newcastle, was the Jack Elliott Memorial concert, which took place shortly after he died.
The City Hall was completely sold out. About 10 years ago there was another memorial concert at the Sage, Gateshead (also sold out), this time for Jock Purdon, who’d been a good friend of Jack’s and who had worked with him.
They are both together “large as life” on the Birtley Miners' Banner, which is still paraded through Durham at the Gala each year. I don’t know if you knew Jock, but you’ll remember one of his songs, A Handful of Earth.
It was the title song on Dick Gaughans album of the same name. I still think it’s the best album Dick made, full of fire and socialism, it suited his voice and personality.
Doreen asked me to sing at Jock’s memorial concert.
It was a real privilege. Doreen got dementia a few years back and as it gradually got worse she couldn’t get out so much, and for the last year or so she’s been in a care home.
I saw her husband Bryan in Darlington at the Folk Workshop about a month ago.
He’ll miss her a lot, he and Doreen were lifelong companions.
The old generation, who were there at the very beginning of the folk revival, are unfortunately, getting fewer.
Then (after I said I would like to use Mike's words as this site's tribute
Ken Allan, Pete Fleming and I will be driving up to Birtley on Wednesday. I think a story which gives a small insight to the Elliotts, and many others from the North East mining communities, is told on a tape recording which Doreen gave me, (as I say, recorded by Alan Lomax, I think).
The Elliott family are talking and singing at home in their kitchen, probably in the late 50s or early 60s.
They’re telling jokes and stories about some of the men who worked in the pit, and the legendary (and mostly imagined) “big hewer” features larger than life.
In between they are singing songs, many of them humorous, Then Jack Elliott’s wife begins talking about an accident that happened some years before at the pit: —
“ … that afternoon they brought the bodies up and put them onto an open hand cart, with a bit of sacking over them, then they pushed them homes along the street”. “ I was only young at the time and I saw them, just laid out, you know” ….. “…. they had no respect for the men when they were alive … and even less when they were dead"
Then there is silence until jack begins to lighten the mood again, and sings one of his songs. I liked the way Ed Pickford described Doreen when posting a YouTube video of her 90th birthday:
Doreen & Bryan Henderson have become folk" mam & dad" to lots of NE folk singers - and those same people travelled from far and wide to pay tribute to Doreen at her 90th birthday. Doreen's family - The Elliotts of Birtley provided an encouraging platform for countless folk singers - myself included. Pete Wood - folk singer and author - wrote a fine book about The Elliotts of Birtley www.petewood.co.uk