Sunday, 23 December 2012

Monday, 17 December 2012


Minimal clearance, stubborn rubber feet!

Old washing machine is only dead weight,

Its ballast an aggregate of odours

And memories, washed-out life stains rinsing

Fades but doesn’t remove. Now though it must be

Hauled from its dedicated niche behind

Matching unit doors. My son has method

And muscle, is lithe enough to squeeze through

To turn off and disconnect the hoses

In a way I once would have for my dad

As he stood aside as I stand aside,

Letting the job be done efficiently.

Just twelve months ago I carried dad

In the crook of my arm where once I held

My infant son. He’d wriggled, was lively,

While dad, desiccated, being interred in

A glossy cardboard cylinder like one

Of the more obscure malts he liked to sip,

Was also difficult to hold. After

Easing the old thing out there is a space,

A vacancy the son eventually

Fills with a new appliance for his dad.
                                                          Dave Alton


Sunday, 16 December 2012




Wednesday January 16th 2013 7.30pm. Admission free. Bar and bookstall.

Northern Voices Community Projects Annual Awards event. The presentation of the annual Northern Voices Community Projects Joseph Skipsey Awards and a commemoration of the Hartley Pit Disaster with poems and songs. This event launches Dr Keith Armstrong's writing residency at the Mining Institute and will also mark the 45th anniversary of the death of Newcastle writer Jack Common and the 110th of his birth, with readings from his works. There will be readings from the NVCP commemorative book on Hartley 'Still The Sea Rolls On', funded by North Tyneside Council, featuring Rachel Cochrane, Catherine Graham, Keith Armstrong, Robert Lonsdale, Geoff Holland, Dave Alton, Gordon Phillips and more, with songs by local folk groups 'Kiddar's Luck' and 'The Sawdust Jacks' and by Chris Harrison (great great grandson of Tyneside pitman poet Joseph Skipsey (1832-1903), who will perform a settting of Skipsey's Hartley ballad), Gary Miller of 'The Whisky Priests' and a special guest appearance by Northumbrian Piper Chris Ormston with a set of tunes, including his Hartley Lament.

The NVCP  touring exhibition on Hartley, produced with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and North Tyneside Council, will be displayed in the Mining Institute from January 7th to February 1st.

Monday, 10 December 2012



sing of my home city
sing of a true geordie heart
sing of a river swell in me
sing of a sea of the canny
sing of the newcastle day

sing of a history of poetry
sing of the pudding chare rain 
sing of the puddles and clarts
sing of the bodies of sailors
sing of the golden sea

sing of our childrens’ laughter
sing of the boats in our eyes
sing of the bridges in sunshine
sing of the fish in the tyne
sing of the lost yards and the pits 

sing of the high level railway
sing of the love in my face
sing of the garths and the castle
sing of the screaming lasses
sing of the sad on the side

sing of the battles’ remains
sing of the walls round our dreams
sing of the scribblers and dribblers
sing of the scratchers of livings
sing of the quayside night

sing of the kicks and the kisses
sing of the strays and the chancers
sing of the swiggers of ale
sing of the hammer of memory
sing of the welders’ revenge

sing of a battered townscape
sing of a song underground
sing of a powerless wasteland
sing of a buried bard
sing of the bones of tom spence
sing of the cocky bastards
sing of a black and white tide
sing of the ferry boat leaving
sing of cathedral bells crying
sing of the tyneside skies

sing of my mother and father
sing of my sister’s kindness
sing of the hope in my stride
sing of a people’s passion
sing of the strength of the wind 



In blood I am
an apprentice boy of Newcastle.
Falling foul
of hacks and parkies,
I tipple and prance
and strum my poems at night.
I sing in the Blackie Boy
and tap-dance on tables.
I wear my shoes on my head
like some medieval surrealist,
a Geordie Bosch.
I go fleeing about 
down Pudding Chare
with the company of fools.
Pissing music in the dark,
like a ruffian
I wear curls around my ears,
The City Fathers will rail
at all my gay ribbons and lace,
my gold and silver threads
and shoes of Spanish leather
but give me the pudding-basin treatment if you will,
see if I fucking care you bastard Puritans,
you killjoys.
I’m a Jingling Geordie
and freedom flies nightly
in my flowing hair.



The apprentice boys of Newcastle kept falling foul of the Puritan tendency. An Act of the Merchant Adventurers of 1554 thunders against their gay dress and 'tippling and dancing... what use of gitternes [guitars] by night!' In 1603, the youths are again enjoined 'not to dance or use music in the streets at night': nor are they to deck themselves in velvet and lace - or to wear their 'locks at their ears like ruffians'. All to no avail: in 1649, Newcastle's Puritan elders were still railing against ribbon and lace, gold and silver thread, and coloured shoes of Spanish leather. Nine recalcitrant youths received the pudding-basin treatment for their hair.
Despite this killjoy attitude it is nevertheless the case that the Newcastle corporation was unique among towns in maintaining a 'company of fools' from 1561-1635. Fools were otherwise confined to courts or noble families. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012




                                  THE TYNESIDE POETS

Tyneside Poets is a group of men and women residing in the North East, who believe that poetry should not be an ivory tower activity, but should go out to the people. Since January 1973 we have given readings at various festivals, in pubs, car parks, town centres and at folk groups. Members have been invited to Sweden, Germany and Iceland. 
Tyneside Poets hold regular meetings, give readings, issue small press publications and stage occasional exhibitions on specific themes. We have appeared on radio and TV, and have presented readings at the Newcastle Festival. 
We have had visiting poets from the USSR and Germany. We have set up exhibitions of Soviet poetry, and German poetry. Poets have come, at our invitation, to Newcastle such as: Maia Borisova, Michael Dudin, Violetta Palchinskyte and Joseph Nineshvilli from USSR; and Oswald Andrae and others from Germany. 
Our small publications have included translations from many languages done by our members. In POETRY NORTH EAST we seek to bring the work of our members to the notice of a wider public. We have had our poems translated into German and Russian and published abroad. We have had articles about our group in magazines in the Soviet Union, Sweden, and Germany. 
Tyneside poets aim to encourage poets and writers; they also strive to develop better understanding between peoples. 

Alan C Brown 10 November 1976

Wednesday, 28 November 2012



The historic Mining Institute on Westgate Road, Newcastle is a gem of a building ideally suited to literary and arts events. With this in mind, in addition to the Institute's regular series of talks and lectures, an exciting programme of community arts events will start next year. These events have been put together by the Mining Institute's new writer in residence Dr Keith Armstrong of Northern Voices Community Projects.


Wednesday January 16th 2013 7.30pm.

Northern Voices Community Projects Annual Award event. Presentation of annual Northern Voices Community Projects Joseph Skipsey Award  and commemoration of the Hartley Pit Disaster with poems and songs. This event launches Dr Keith Armstrong's writing residency at the Mining Institute and will also mark the 45th anniversary of the death of Newcastle writer Jack Common and the 110th of his birth, with readings from his works and songs by local folk group 'Kiddar's Luck' and by Gary Miller. Plus readings from a Manifesto for Northumbria.

Tuesday September 3rd 2013 7.30pm.

Northern Voices Community Projects. A special event to mark the 110th anniversary of the death of Tyneside pitman poet Joseph Skipsey (1832-1903) with songs and readings.

Other events will include a celebration of the mining heritage of North East England in poetry and song; and special folk music events, with famous guests, in the historic Lecture Theatre. Details to be announced in 2013.


Doctor Keith Armstrong – Poet and Scholar

Born in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community development worker, poet, librarian and publisher, Keith Armstrong, now residing in Whitley Bay, is coordinator of the Northern Voices Community Projects creative writing and community publishing enterprise which specialises in recording the experiences of people in the North East of England. He has organised several community arts festivals in the region and many literary events featuring the likes of Yevgeny Yevtushenko (in 1976 at the Mining Institute), Douglas Dunn, Barry Hines, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Katrina Porteous, Adrian Mitchell,Benjamin Zephaniah and Liz Lochhead.
He was founder of Ostrich poetry magazine, Poetry North East, Tyneside Writers' Workshop, Tyneside Poets, East Durham Writers' Workshop, Tyneside Trade Unionists for Socialist Arts, Tyneside Street Press and the Strong Words and Durham Voices community publishing series.
He has recently compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham, the market town of Hexham and North Tyneside.
He qualified as a Chartered Librarian at Newcastle Polytechnic and was employed in this field at Newcastle University Library, Blyth Public Library,International Research and Development Company (I.R.D., Newcastle), Merz & McLellan Consulting Engineers (Killingworth), Gateshead College and Sunderland Libraries, before becoming a community worker with Newcastle Neighbourhood Projects (part of Community Projects Foundation), research worker with Tyneside Housing Aid Centre, and then Community Arts Development Worker (1980-6) with Peterlee Community Arts (later East Durham Community Arts).
As an industrial librarian at IRD., he was christened 'Arts & Darts', organising an events programme in the firm incuding poetry readings,theatrical productions, and art exhibitions by his fellow workers, as well as launching Ostrich poetry magazine using the firm's copying facilities and arranging darts matches between departments!
He has been a self employed writer since 1986 and he was awarded a doctorate in 2007 for his work on Newcastle writer Jack Common at the University of Durham where he received a BA Honours Degree in Sociology in 1995 and Masters Degree in 1998 for his studies on regional culture in the North East of England. His book on Jack Common 'Common Words and the Wandering Star' was published by the University of Sunderland Press in 2009. 
His poetry has been extensively published in magazines and he has performed it throughout the world. In his youth, he travelled to Paris to seek out the grave of poet Charles Baudelaire and he has been making cultural pilgrimages abroad ever since. He has toured to Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Poland, Iceland (including readings during the Cod War), Denmark, France, Germany (including readings at the Universities of Hamburg, Kiel, Oldenburg, Trier and Tuebingen), Luxembourg, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Isle of Man, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Cuba, Jamaica and Kenya.

As writer in residence at the Mining Institute, Keith will not only organise a programme of events but will also look at ways of exploring the amazing archives of the Institute in exciting and original ways.

Poems by Doctor Keith Armstrong:


‘What was it there on Hartley heap, caused the mother and child to weep?’ (George Cooke)

Cold January’s gripped our throbbing hearts and torn them.
Still the sea rolls on.

This earth’s bowells stink of our loved one’s deaths,
the air tastes foul.
Still the sea rolls on.

They don black gloves,
drag out the bodies one by one.
The death-stained faces seem to smile.
Still the sea rolls on.

We are the widows of Hartley,
our men and boys are dead,
our lives cracked open,
damp corpses in our beds.
Still the sea rolls on.

We clutch cold messages from Dukes and Queens,
we wipe the coal dust from our widowed eyes.
The coffin makers’ heavy hammers beat,
keep time with lapping parlour clocks,
and still
the sea rolls on,
still the sea rolls on.

Still the sea,

we are the widows of Hartley,
our men and boys are dead.

Take away your stumbling words and




You picked splinters
with a pin each day
from und er blackened fingernails;
shreds of metal
from the shipyard grime,
minute memories of days swept by:
the dusty remnants of a life
spent in the shadow of the sea;
the tears in your shattered eyes
at the end of work.
And your hands were strong,
so sensitive and capable
of building boats
and nursing roses;
a kind and gentle man
who never hurt a soul,
the sort of quiet knackered man
who built a nation.
Dad, I watched your ashes float away
down to the ocean bed
and in each splinter
I saw your caring eyes
and gracious smile.

I think of your strong silence every day
and I am full of you,
the waves you scaled,
and all the sleeping Tyneside streets
you taught me to dance my fleeting feet along.

When I fly, you are with me.
I see your fine face
in sun-kissed clouds
and in the gold ring on my finger,
and in the heaving crowd on Saturday,
and in the lung of Grainger Market,
and in the ancient breath
of our own Newcastle.

a commemoration in words and images to mark its 150th anniversary

The Hartley Pit Calamity of 1862 was the first large scale mining disaster of Victorian times. The extent of the Calamity, together with the spreading of news by rail and telegraph, brought this tragic event in rural Northumberland into the homes of families throughout the land on a daily basis.
The reaction from the public, together with the interest shown by Queen Victoria, kept the story in the press for more than a month. Just as evidenced in 2010 in the Chilean mine rescue, the public were gripped by the horror of men trapped underground and the heroic efforts made to rescue them.
This new book from Northern Voices Community Projects, compiled and edited by Dr Keith Armstrong and Peter Dixon and commissioned by North Tyneside Council, was launched at the Mining Institute in January 2012 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Calamity. With historical documents and images, alongside poems, songs, stories, photographs and drawings by local people, it formed part of a series of events and activities intended to ensure that the story of Hartley is not forgotten.
EMAIL  k.armstrong643@btinternet.com


Read more about Doctor Keith Armstrong and Northern Voices Community Projects:


Friday, 23 November 2012



Ye’ve worried yorsel til yi can’t
Keep yor mits from yor mooth,
Yor eyes hev grown dark
Wiv lang leukkin’ oot,
Ye’ll fidget an’ fret, little feul
Till yor pale as a cloot –
Can’t yi trust us a bit?

He shud ha’ cum sooner, he’ll not
Cum noo like whaat he said;
He’s got a new fancy,
Some babe he deceives.
Aa’ll nivvor forgive ‘im his lies
As lang as Aa lives – 
Ah! hadd on a minute!

Aa’m cumin’ an’ Aa got mi fare
An’ a bit mair te tyek
Ye aboot, an’ dee us a show
Ye nivver wud like me te cum
Hyme broke, well ye know – 
Ye’d leuk doon at that.

Mebbe a week or two mair,
An’ then mi fedggetty lass,
Aa’ll cum an’ tumble ye
Tight in me arms.
An’ howld ye theor haard.
Till ye can’t get yor breeth
An’ yor eyes leuk up dancin’
An’ yi sweaor it’s yor deeth
Te hev such a lad.

Jack Common 1903 – 1968

Sunday, 18 November 2012


Early September,
ice begins to grip our hearts.

Ash from a long smoke, the city lies.

Ghostly images of our fathers rise,
drift in the blood-thick smog.

The traffic snarls,
dead bodies rot and clot in our veins,
dust blown into cul-de-sacs.

8.45, a Thursday night,
a senile couple stagger in from the mist.
They order half pints,
the old man sniffs,
his eyes the faint grey of a wintry sky.
The old woman’s face is ruddy, bloody,
creased like the neck of a tortoise.
She mumbles to him
and he mumbles back.
‘Liar!’ she shouts.
‘Quiet!’ he says and raises a hand in warning.
‘Liar!’ again,
‘Liar!’ again
but louder she cries.
‘Sharrup you old bag!’
‘Liar!’ she cries,
‘I gave you a pound!’
‘No!’ he replies.
‘Liar, you liar!’
‘Quiet you bag!’

They sip their half pints and rise.
He steps outside.
We hear his stick tap.
She shuffles, bow legged, to the door.
A pool of urine gathers round her feet,
she trails it out into the street.

They are lost in a whirl,
a merry-go-round.

I see their desperate hands grope in the night,
flail against the glass outside.
Blood spatters windows,
runs to the earth,
seeps and nourishes birth;
birth of new dreams,
new schemes.
It seems,
a new sense of fear is born.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Ballad of Tommy Oliver


 Cofie’s spear plunged into the wooden heart.

Was the five bob body on the beach the start

For Tommy Oliver? He won the hand

Hands down, cards played and laid there on the sand,


Scooping his earthly reward. Cullercoats

Born, dad a captain, so inevitably

Tommy, as young man, removed to Hauxley,

Faced down the North Sea and took to the boats.


But when it was too wild for the fishing

With rain reigning and gale-forced waves lashing

Tormented cobles, Tommy it was then

Who showed himself first amongst drinking men.


He rode wild horses foaming pints of ale

Through every inn and pub in High Hauxley,

Troublesome as a cabbage in a chimney:

Tommy first and Tommy last was the tale


Until the deep, deep spear thrust of illness

Balanced his life on the tip. His distress

At discovering mortality was

Palpable, being possessed by fear because


He had drunk away the hours of his life

By the glassful. To repent, to right this wrong

Tommy summoned the reverend Armstrong

To his mortal bed. A mere withered leaf


In autumn he was and winter pressing,

But, with a simple prayer and a blessing

He’d give himself up to the ebbing tide.

Cofie’s spear though, the spear in his side,


Lanced death, and Armstrong drew him from the edge

Of the gaming table and public bar

And the willing girls who went far too far,

Into a new life of chapel and pledge.


Tommy forswore the sea for horse and cart

And as monger of fish and faith he’d start

With a hymn then sing his wares: “Fish maybe

A penny or two, but salvation’s free.”


From fishing village to pit row he went

In blue reefer, jersey and clerical hat,

Everywhere people pointed and said, “That

Is Tommy Oliver whom God has sent.”


With Wesleyans and Sally Ann’s he’d preach

Praying it was never too late to reach

Those who had fallen and those on the slide

From Amble northwards and south to Tyneside.


After three score years passed and ten and one,

Preaching in Benwell a whole weekend long,

He slipped away during a sacred song:

How folk mourned for Tommy Oliver gone.


Bourn back to Amble in sound of the sea

Where once he’d grasped the spear of destiny

As Cofie had done, leaving Woden slain,

Tommy Oliver had done so again.


                                                Dave Alton

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


They’re going to illuminate Scotswood,
make floral entrepreneurs in Elswick.
Someone’s set fire to our Arts reporter,
it’s another Cultural Initiative.
Sting’s buying the Civic Centre,
they’re filling the Baltic with tanks.
The Sage is changing its name to onion,
Shane’s pissed on the classical conductor.
They’re floating quangos down the Tyne,
the bonfire will be at Shields.
They’re bringing tourists to witness miracles,
the Chief Executive will strip for money.
They’re blowing up the Castle Keep
to build an installation.
They’re giving the locals more public art,
it’s something to rhyme with.
They’re taking live theatre to the cemetery,
the vicar will write an Arts Council poem.
Steve Cram’s taken up painting
to stop his nose from running.
The river will be made into an ice rink,
we can play with our boats in the bath.
Let New Labour bomb Iraq,
they’re making a museum of politics.
Stuffing glass cases with old principles,
the head hunters are out and about.
It’s cultivated jobs for the boys and the girls,
they’re putting the Arts into centres.
Drain the music from our souls,
we have to be grateful to be patronised.
Their self-righteousness grins from on high,
let the bombs fly and rockets rip.
We can enjoy some more tamed Art,
say cheerio to your history.
They’ve wrapped it up in moth balls,
thank God for the boys from the south.
They’ve saved us from self-government,
we’ve missed out on the Love Parade.
This City of Culture got lost in the end,
the Angel glowers over us though.
Thanks again City Fathers,
it looks uglier every day. 
You’ve reinvented our culture for us,
you’ve rendered it meaningless.
Guts ripped out,
we touch our forelock to your glorious Lords.
From the orifice of the Deputy Prime Minister
leaks the corrupt emptiness of your manifestos.
The aching past of the working man
has become the death of England.
Let us hail you from NewcastleGateshead,
a city you made up for yourselves.
Let us watch your empty schemes plummet,
let us learn to dance in community again.
We are Geordies naked with a beautiful anger to burn.