WALLINGTON MORNING!

WALLINGTON MORNING!

15.1.18

THE WHITLEY BAY FAT OX




















In memory of the 18th century Quadruped immortalised by Bewick in his copperplate engraving of The Whitley Large Ox.

The original Ox engraving was produced for the owner Mr Edward Hall and published on the 10 April 1789. The Ox became a beast of folklore in the 1780s due to its immense size, growing to a height of over 5ft 9ins and weighing a massive 216 stones. It was said to have grazed near the site of the aptly named Fat Ox pub in Whitley Bay before it was walked all the way to Newcastle to be slaughtered.

 
Keith Armstrong has penned these lines:


THE YEAR OF THE OX

It was 1789 the Year of the Great Ox,
the year the beast got loose in Paris,
when Whitley Bay was sleeping.
The year of the storming,
when John Martin was born in Haydon Bridge,
his heart breaking with painting visions;
the year of the slaying
of old regimes
when royalty hung in the slaughterhouse.
The Ox walked seven days,
like a doomed aristocrat
to have its tallow used to light the night,
to show the way
for the Rights of Man,
to sacrifice its beastly life
to keep a candle burning
and give us hope
and faith and charity,
a glint from God
and a gleam in Thomas Bewick’s eye
as he engraved the swollen moment
for all to see.


KEITH ARMSTRONG


THROUGH THE EYES OF A GREAT OX

Exhausted,
what could you see?
The mob grabbing your life,
and Tom Horsley’s butcher’s axe
hanging over your great spirit
as you valiently strode
the mucky road,
along the throbbing seashore,
through the pestilence of Tyneside,
its filth and flames,
its poisoned air and quack’s potions,
its Geordie beauty and debauch.

Edward Hall thought he owned you.
After a few beers, he thought the very universe was his.
But you, my sturdy fellow, were your own Ox
and could see the folly
of the swinish multitude
as it came to get you
to rip out your guts
and feed the Duke and Duchess,
and all their grasping subjects,
to satiate their appalling vanity.

You had more dignity than them.
You gave up your animal life
for others.
While Eddie Hall he died in pomp,
you, my massive beauty, were unselfish,
a Great Beast
full of love,
the very meat
of life itself
in all its morning glory,
in all its starry wonder;
the wide and beautiful sky
through the miraculous eyes of an Ox.


KEITH ARMSTRONG
THE CONSTITUTION OF AN OX

It had the Constitution of an Ox:
Girth at the belly 10 feet 9 inches
Girth at the loins 10 feet 4 inches
Girth at the shoulders 10 feet 3 inches
Girth behind the shoulders 9 feet 9 inches
Breadth at the hips 3 feet
Breadth at the shoulders 2 feet 6 inches
Height at the fore-crop 5 feet 9 iches
Height at the loins 5 feet 11 inches
Height from the ground to the breast 1 feet 6 inches
Weight 216 stones 8lbs.

That was the Constitution of the Ox.
The track record, shape, volume, build, realm, history, cut and nub of it, the scale of things, the order of the Ox, the full measure of the beast drawn by Thomas Bewick for all of us in awe of it, in a world that never ceases, to astonish.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

11.1.18

BURNS NIGHT SPECIAL IN NEWCASTLE































BURNS NIGHT SPECIAL IN NEWCASTLE

 

THERE WILL BE A BURNS NIGHT SPECIAL WITH POETRY AND MUSIC ON TUESDAY 23RD JANUARY 2018 7PM ONWARDS (START TIME 7.30 PM, ENDS 9.30 PM) IN THE RED HOUSE, QUAYSIDE, NEWCASTLE. ADMISSION FREE.

PERFORMERS ARE NORTHUMBRIAN PIPER CHRIS ORMSTON (WHO DOES A SET WITH POET KEITH ARMSTRONG FEATURING EIGHTEENTH CENTURY INSPIRED TYNESIDE POEMS AND TUNES) AND POETS KATRINA PORTEOUS,  CATHERINE GRAHAM, HARRY GALLAGHER AND ROB WALTON - AND THERE'S MORE MUSIC FROM THE SAWDUST JACKS (FEATURING THEIR NEW SONG ON NEWCASTLE WRITER JACK COMMON) AND DURHAM'S GARY MILLER. GUESTS FROM TEESSIDE ARE POETS ROBERT LONSDALE AND TREV TEASDEL.

A SPECIAL FEATURE WILL BE TO COMMEMORATE THE ANNIVERSARIES OF LOCAL WRITERS AND ARTISTS JACK COMMON (1903-1968), THOMAS BEWICK (1753-1828), JOHN CUNNINGHAM (1729-1773) AND JOSEPH SKIPSEY (1832-1903).

BRING ALL YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY!


MORE INFORMATION FROM:

DOCTOR KEITH ARMSTRONG,
NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS.

TEL 0191 2529531.






MY FRIEND JACK COMMON (1903-1968)


Ever since the sixth form,
when I found you,
a kindred Novocastrian
in a library book,
I seem to have followed in your steps,
stumbled after you
in rain soaked lanes,
knocked on doors
in search of your stories.
For over forty years,
I have tracked
the movement of your pen
in streets you walked
and on cross country trains
from your own Newcastle
to Warrington
Malvern,
Newport Pagnell,
Letchworth,
Yetminster,
Wallington
and back again.
I have given talks about you,
supped in your pubs,
strode along your paragraphs
and river paths
to try to find
that urge in you
to write
out of your veins
what you thought of things,
what made you tick
and your loved ones
laugh and cry.
I tried to reach you in a thesis,
to see you as a lad in Heaton,
but I could never catch your breath
because I didn’t get to meet you
face to face,
could only guess
that you were like me:
a kind of kindly
socialist writer
in a world
too cruel for words.




KEITH ARMSTRONG



6.1.18

THE SUN ON DANBY GARDENS



The sun on Danby Gardens
smells of roast beef,
tastes of my youth.
The flying cinders of a steam train
spark in my dreams.
Across the old field,
a miner breaks his back
and lovers roll in the ditches,
off beaten tracks.
Off Bigges Main,
my grandad taps his stick,
reaches for the braille of long-dead strikes.
The nights
fair draw in
and I recall Joyce Esthella Antoinette Giles
and her legs that reached for miles,
tripping over the stiles
in red high heels.
It was her and blonde Annie Walker
who took me in the stacks
and taught me how to read
the signs
that led inside their thighs.
Those Ravenswood girls
would dance into your life
and dance though all the snow drops
of those freezing winters,
in the playground of young scars.
And I remember freckled Pete
who taught me Jazz,
who pointed me to Charlie Parker
and the edgy bitterness of Brown Ale.
Mrs Todd next door
was forever sweeping
leaves along the garden path
her fallen husband loved to tread.
Such days:
the smoke of A4 Pacifics in the aftermath of war,
the trail of local history on the birthmarked street.
And I have loved you all my life
and will no doubt die in Danby Gardens
where all my poems were born,
just after midnight.


KEITH ARMSTRONG




Michael CallaghanAbsolutely brilliant Keith!


Conrad Atkinson: Another gem Keith
Best Conrad 

3.1.18

WALLINGTON MORNING





































(for Peter Common & Dan Pinnock)

'But the thing I saw in your face
No power can disinherit:
No bomb that ever burst
Shatters the crystal spirit.' (George Orwell).

I stood at your door,
knocked in the English sunshine,
bowed to greet you
but could not hear
the chatter
from your typewriter
or the rain pecking
at the tin roof,
only the plummet of the leaves
brushing against my face
and the birds
falling over the fields.

Thought of you and Jack Common,
shaking hands
in open debate,
patched sleeves
damp on the bar counter,
ploughing through
tracts of history,
eyes on the horizon
looking for War
and bombs
over Datchworth's spire.

This magic morning,
clear sky in our hearts.
No September showers,
only goats bleating,
a horse trotting
down the lane
and, in the day dream,
St Mary's bells
glistening
with Eileen asleep
in the clouds.

What should I say?
We are weak.
I know you were awkward
but, like Jack, full of love.
Out of bullets,
flowers may grow;
out of trenches,
seeds.
The roses
and acorns of thoughts 
you planted
those years ago
in Kits Lane,
nourish us now
in these brief minutes,
gifts
from your writing hand
farming for words,
the eggs of essays,
the jam on your fingers.

You were scraping a book together,
smoking the breath 
out of your collapsing lungs,
taking the world
on your creaking bent shoulders,
riding across fields
for friends,
bones aching,
fighting to exist
in the cold breeze.

Still the Simpson's Ale
was good in the Plough,
the old laughter still
flying down this Wallington lane,
with the crackling children 
sparkling
on an idyllic day.

Enjoy this beauty,
it will turn to pain.
Sing your folk songs,
dig your garden,
dance in your brain.
Graft and graft
until all the breath is gone.
Leave a brave mark
in the dust
round Animal Farm.

What a good thing
to be alive
where songbirds soar
and daffodils nod.
Over the slaughter
of motorways,
we are following 
your large footprints
into this bright countryside
where good people
adopt another's children
and still 
fall in love 
with England.



KEITH ARMSTRONG






Written after visiting Orwell’s cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire, where he lived with Eileen O’Shaughnessy and which was looked after for him in 1938 by fellow writer Jack Common.


'The more I read ‘Wallington Morning’ the more I like it.  Very well done, an extremely clever and well written poem!' (Peter Common, son of Jack)


'I love this! Very emotive! Draws pictures in my brain and melts my heart. Thank you.' (Denise Byrne, daughter of Peter).



1.1.18

I WILL SING OF MY OWN NEWCASTLE! HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM DR KEITH ARMSTRONG!



 

























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


KEITH ARMSTRONG



As featured on BBC Radio 4

29.12.17

MAD MARTINS REVIEW


Gary Miller, with Keith Armstrong, Iain Petrie & Friends – Mad Martins

written by David Kidman 27 December, 2017

 
Mad Martins: The Story of the Martin Brothers
Whippet Records – 2017
Mad Martins is an ambitious, and rather special, project. Essentially the brainchild of Tyneside poet and cultural historian Keith Armstrong, it depicts the lives (and, by extension, the times) of the three Martin brothers – William, Jonathan and John – who were born in the late18th century (in 1772, 1782 and 1789 respectively) in the South Tyne area of Northumberland. Each of the brothers was a visionary who nevertheless achieved a degree of notoriety (in Jonathan’s case also embracing a certain status of madness) during his lifetime. William, “The Lion Of Wallsend”, self-styled “Philosophical Conqueror of All Nations”, was an engraver and inventor; Jonathan, a religious fanatic, was “the notorious incendiary” of York Minster; and John was both a town planner and an acclaimed painter of epic scenes of cataclysmic Biblical events.
The project tellingly brings together songs, poems, narration, music and art. Thus, in order to appreciate its scope and splendour, you definitely need to experience the whole package – a set of three CDs housed within a deluxe hardback book. A useful adjunct in the form of a complementary (fourth) disc presents all the instrumental backing tracks to the various spoken-word pieces on the main triple-CD set, together with the orchestral backing track to the song In My Hands. And there are plans for a full-blown 2½-hour theatrical performance of Mad Martins in 2018…
Mad Martins’ musical director and coordinator is songwriter Gary Miller, whose principal claim to fame is the founding, in 1985, with his twin brother Glenn, of cult folk-rock legends The Whisky Priests. The band lasted through until 2002, shortly after which Gary was approached by Keith to update and develop his own original concept (poetry and music with accompanying slideshow) for a new audience. Quickly enthused, and armed with a wealth of research material supplied by Keith, Gary proceeded to pen (in the space of about a fortnight!) around a dozen songs to add to the poems Keith had previously written for the project, making up a 90-minute set list of material for presentation to a live audience. This was premièred in October 2002 as part of the Northumberland Traditional Music Festival, featuring performances by Keith and Gary accompanied by Glenn on accordion and Chris Ormston on Northumbrian pipes. A handful of further minor revivals followed (albeit with a long hiatus due to various personal circumstances); Gary was then inspired to conduct further research into the Martin Brothers and to write an additional batch of songs.
Finally, at the beginning of 2013, Gary decided it was time, at last, to accord the project what he felt was its rightful due, and began recording sessions for the Mad Martins album with his friend and former collaborator Iain Petrie producing. These sessions continued sporadically well into 2014, with additional contributors Glenn Miller, Mick Tyas, Richard Doran and Ann Sessoms coming on board. By which time, the initial plan to release the project as a single CD had expanded to a full three-act enterprise necessitating a triple CD with an accompanying book, for which acclaimed artist Helen Temperley was commissioned to provide the design. The high production values of the visual package are mirrored in the engineering, which sports fabulously detailed sound (expansively widescreen where necessary) that nowhere fails to make an impact, chiming closely with Keith’s artistic vision and Gary’s musicianship in ensuring the listener is kept engaged throughout.
The portraits of the three Martins, involving a broad gamut of emotional situations, naturally afford ample opportunity for the exercising of Gary’s proven songwriting skills. Gary has a real flair for conjuring imagery from the past with a gritty reality. He possesses an inbuilt and empathic understanding of social history, which is voiced in direct tell-it-like-it-is language (not lacking in literacy or lyrical expression, however), boosted by a keen sense of melodic invention, manifested in canny tunes and often seriously catchy choruses. There’s also a strong regional (north-east) folk sensibility within Gary’s songwriting that’s key to the memorability of his songs. Yet while he utilises basic elements of traditional instrumentation (acoustic guitar, mandolin, accordion, dulcimer, bouzouki) to provide a feisty bedrock, he’s also not afraid to stir things up imaginatively with the judicious incorporation of extra instruments (here, individual guest musicians playing occasional fiddle, trumpet and bodhrán as well as some “improvised percussion”, a horn combo and an orchestral ensemble, and Iain himself supplying a whole array of less-traditional textures including rhythm section, electric guitar, keyboards and a modicum of programming). All of course effectively tailored to the mood and character of each episode of the protagonists’ life-histories.
Act One (William) opens with a scene-setting introductory Prophecy, jauntily done in the manner of a street-corner broadside-ballad; The Leaping Swordsman is replete with swashbuckling derring-do; God And Air is a full-on anthemic declaration; In Dreamtime is a tender vision of inspiration; The Dandy Horse (an early “travelling machine”) trots forth with pompous tread; Medals takes a cheeky Johnny Cash riff and a punk charge in its portrayal of William as a figure of ridicule proudly wearing his inventions on his chest; and finale-summation William, You Were Really Something is an almost jolly, affectionate singalong-pop-style tribute to the man’s enterprise. The seven sung tableaux are interspersed with complementary spoken-word narrations expounding different aspects of William’s interest-base, involving idiosyncratic observations on other disparate matters such as libraries and a cure for cholera. Together these items provide an entertaining and well-rounded portrait of William Martin, a complex character with many facets and concerns who’s been (perhaps unfairly) dismissed or widely ridiculed.
Act Two (Jonathan) presents a less overtly lovable eccentric, a religious fanatic of an altogether more self-destructive bent. Individual episodes in his decidedly picaresque life are vigorously presented here. Jonathan’s early experience In The Navy is done as a rollicking heave-ho shanty-hornpipe; “Shoot The Bishop!” recounts Jonathan’s failed attempt to assassinate the Bishop Of Oxford; Four Bare Walls sees his committal to an asylum; Escape gallops away with the whip-crack of a spaghetti western; My “Life” apes the style of a Joe Meek story-song (complete with cheesy Tornados organ solo!); the Dylanesque Blood, Fire And Smoke is the epic Ballad Of An Incendiary that loudly curses and denounces; Maria’s Testimony (with guest vocal by Maria Tucker) is a lyrical Irish-folksong-style character portrait; the a cappella At The Assizes sets Jonathan’s defiant pre-indictment “Bring it on!” speech, which is further developed by his self-assessment Madhouse Martin; and A Painting For Charles voices Jonathan’s vindication (to Charles Dickens) of his actions in setting fire to York Minster – on the instruction of a vision. Once again the passages of spoken-word narration inform the principal biographical narrative, and the whole is a satisfying sequence that presents the story of this potentially unsympathetic man with insight and sympathy.
Act Three (John) differs from its predecessors in that it depicts a personality who (at least for a time) achieved a healthy measure of recognition for his good works and successful accomplishments. Searching For The Waters Of Oblivion conveys the humility of John’s awe-struck artistic inspiration; The Paint And The Pain, with its strutting Pete-Townshend-style guitar riffing, well conveys the proud yet tortured artisan; the folksy The Thin Veneer (a duet with Karen Ross) takes its cue from rueful reflection on later penury brought on by providing financial assistance to bail out his brothers’ misfortunes; and Pandemonium explores the much more recent resurgence of interest in John’s apocalyptic paintings. These are some of the strongest songs in the project, the downside of which is that this third portrait seems, by comparison, less consistent and more uneven in its invention as a result. Weaker songs don’t entirely convince – the swaggering Picture The Scriptures may be an honest self-assessment, but its throwaway setting has a slightly hollow ring to it, and the would-be-epic big-production number In My Hands is set to a mock-baroque sinfonia and feels a touch too pompous, underplaying John’s humility in his moment of triumph.
So there we have it. Mad Martins is a concept album, yes, in the grand tradition – but largely without the more unfortunate excesses and trappings of that (sometimes deservedly maligned) genre. Aside, that is, from a small degree of over-indulgence, in places, in vérité sound effects (exploding fireworks, bubbling sewage etc), which to my mind undermines and needlessly clutters the listening experience. Importantly, Mad Martins sports a splendid package that fully befits its major-project status and the epic scope of its subject. It’s housed in a sturdy, lavishly illustrated 104-page book that includes full lyrics for songs, poems and linking text, also a valuable, and admirably comprehensive, “select” bibliography for further reading, all set attractively amongst relevant artwork, period illustrations (all listed and fully credited) and sundry ephemera. In particular, those listeners who are not familiar with John Martin’s paintings will find the reproductions a revelation – even if their full magnificence and splendour is not revealed in monochrome (but hey, I can well appreciate that the extra cost of colour reproduction would have been prohibitive). I might say that if fRoots magazine was still offering an Award Category for Best-Packaged Albums Of The Year, then Mad Martins would be a very strong contender indeed, if not an outright winner.
Mad Martins is no one-dimensional portrayal hastily cobbled together to cash in on some spurious anniversary, but a genuinely stimulating cultural artefact, born of an inspired collaboration of like-minded creative artists. The device of integrated narrative backed by traditional tunes provides a highly effective unity and consistency. For, out of the energising catalyst of Keith’s poetry and narration, Gary and Iain have together produced an extraordinary work, an educational experience that both informs and (royally) entertains (now where have we heard that dictum before?). It also happens to contain some great music and songwriting that bears both specific relevance to its subject and a definite resonance for our times.
www.mad-martins.co.uk

28.12.17

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO A TWIN TOWN

























I am glad to have twinned with this shapely town,
the bureaucrat who chose it was inspired,
picking through the rail lines and autobahns to seek it out,
linking it with my fleeting life.
I have travelled here a score of times and watched
my features change
with the seasons
in a twin town’s mirror.
I have made and carelessly lost friends,
renewed the flagging feel of tenderness,
groped in the darkness for a kiss gone missing,
licked over nooks and crannies.

With local wine glinting in my starry eyes,
I have lost all tracks of time
in the cool of bowing trees;
rejoiced in the pounding of church bells,
singing in my head.
I have dived in the shadows seeking famous sons,
slid in gutters with the down and outs.

This town has a brain of a University
and the guts of a stray-dog.
I have flogged it to death.

It was in this bar, at this table, in this corner,
that I looked into a girl called Karin’s eyes;
and it was at that moment, for that rich moment,
that our eyes twinned and I couldn’t wait to jet home,
write a glowing report on her glowing face
for our International Exchange Officer to file safely
under ‘Twinning Affairs’
or ‘Affairs, Twinning, New Year’.

Yes, I am glad
to have twinned with this shapely town,
inspired
by Karin’s eyes.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

23.12.17

MY FRIEND JACK COMMON (1903-1968)









































 








Ever since the sixth form,
when I found you, 
a kindred Novocastrian
in a library book,
I seem to have followed in your steps,
stumbled after you 
in rain soaked lanes,
knocked on doors
in search of your stories.
For over forty years,
I have tracked
the movement of your pen
in streets you walked
and on cross country trains
from your own Newcastle
to Warrington
Malvern,
Newport Pagnell,
Letchworth,
Yetminster,
Wallington 
and back again.
I have given talks about you,
supped in your pubs,
strode along your paragraphs 
and river paths
to try to find
that urge in you
to write 
out of your veins
what you thought of things,
what made you tick
and your loved ones 
laugh and cry.
I tried to reach you in a thesis,
to see you as a lad in Heaton,
but I could never catch your breath
because I didn’t get to meet you
face to face,
could only guess
that you were like me:
a kind of kindly 
socialist writer
in a world
too cruel for words.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

Peter Common Well said Keith!



Dear kindly socialist writer - this is great - thanks a lot for sending it

Love
Pat


the jingling geordie

My photo
whitley bay, tyne and wear, United Kingdom
poet and raconteur