1971: The Geordie Song Book, edited by Frank Graham

In 1970 Frank Graham had published Larn Yersel’ Geordie by Scott Dobson, a humorous guide to the Tyneside tongue. The sales of this book sparked off a series of Geordie Books (sometimes Beuks), some by new authors, others drawing on Frank Graham’s existing strengths. The Geordie Song Book took the antiquarian and musician-focused content of titles such as Graham’s edition of Tyneside Songs (1965; derived from Joseph Crawhall’s A Beuk o’ Newcassel Sangs, 1888) [see http://woolshed1.blogspot.com/2008/12/beuk-o-newcassell-sangs-collected-by.html], original edited complilations of old and new north-east songs such as Gwen Polwarth’s Come You Not From Newcastle (1972) as well as numerous facsimiles of larger nineteenth-century works. It then included it in a pamphlet format with illustrations rather than music, perhaps aimed at people who learned tunes by ear and group singing as much as those who knew how to read music or play an instrument.

Later editions showed a drawing of a young street singer on the front cover, but the original cover is more contemporary, depicting sheet music for ‘My Miner Lad’ held against a background of the Tyne Bridge, St Nicholas’s Cathedral, and a colliery pit head. The accent is on continuity between the old city and the present, damaged by the demolition of so much of the northern and central city centre to create Eldon Square Shopping Centre in the mid-1970s. In 1971, while there had already been dramatic changes to the city centre, this and the Central Motorway (1974) this still lay in the future.

The songs selected portray ways of life recognizable in 1971 but which were fading from the scene and from memory, and songs of social ferment based in the nineteenth century, but which several in the 1970s might gave thought had new applications. Among the latter is ‘Perseveer, or the Nine Oors Movemint’ by Matthew Dryden, which Graham notes “was one of many composed at the time of the great Engineers’ Strikes of 1871 on Tyneside in connection with the struggle for the Nine Hours’ Day.” ‘The Bonny Moor Hen’ tells of the battle of Stanhope in 1818, when the bishop of Durham’s officials were defeated in open street fighting over their attempt to arrest Weardale men for poaching on the bishop’s land, violating thereby the customary hunting rights of Weardalers. ‘Fourpence a Day’ is the lament of the ore washers at the rakes above the County Durham lead mines. There are several songs of resistance to the press gang too, depicting them as enemies of liberty to the sailors of Northumberland and Durham and ruinous to the well-being of their wives and families.

Alongside these are less polemical songs. ‘Cappy’ tells of a dog struck down by mistake during a cull of illicit fighting dogs in Newcastle, but has a happy ending. There are tales of married life, a husband finding he didn’t know his wife as well as he thought despite several years of marriage in ‘Nanny’s a Maisor’, and a wife regretting her marriage in ‘The Shoemakker’. ‘Footy again the wa” is as unapologetic as coded paean to sex can be. The concluding song, Joe Wilson’s ‘Charity’, tells of the plight of an elderly woman run over and left helpless in Newcastle in 1873, three-quarters of a century before the National Health Service and when the benefit provided by the poor rate was inadequate for her shelter and sustenance. For Wilson, it was a message to a society which needed to be reminded that it could do better; Frank Graham helped ensure that it would be passed on to better-provided for, but more complacent days.

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