THOMAS SPENCE 1750-1814

THOMAS SPENCE 1750-1814

25.6.16

ON THE SCROUNGE IN THE EURO LOUNGE


 






























(for Mick Standen)

Here in this dreadful Belgian Pub,
we’re drinking
piss poor booze.
And the Belgian barmaid’s Belgian Breasts
reach out
for the Dutch Frontier.

Brussels Airport
plastic sprouts
games amongst it all.
Gates and terminals,
dates and walls,
the Business God grins on.

Abroad, in all this shameless wealth,
there’s a deeply shallow stench.
And we poets
drift
in one Stella stream
of rootless alienation.

Yes, it’s us again
declaiming verse
to all the whoring Nations.
Declaring love poems to the skies,
our words are caught
in flight. 

Because we’re on the scrounge
in the Euro Lounge.
We’re just gagging for a quid.
We’re upside down in a screwed-up world,
hanging
on these very words.

Yes, we’re on the scrounge
in the Euro Lounge.
We’re searching for the Lost and Found.
Two old romantics
in a place called ‘Frantic’,
last terminal of dead dreams.

On the scrounge
in the Euro Lounge,
among the jewels and fancy gowns.
We’re dancing over the business types,
we’re tripping
over Stars and Stripes.

Yes, we’re poets on the scrounge
in the Euro Lounge,
with only our poems to lose.
Just cadging grants to fund our rants
and red wine to ease
the pain.                                                                                                          


KEITH ARMSTRONG

9.6.16

THOMAS SPENCE BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION


THOMAS SPENCE BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION:

TUESDAY 21ST JUNE 12PM NOON AT THE THOMAS SPENCE PLAQUE, BROAD GARTH, QUAYSIDE, NEWCASTLE:
PERFORMANCES OF SPECIALLY COMPOSED SPENCE POEMS AND SONGS BY LOCAL POETS AND MUSICIANS, WITH A NEW SONG IN HONOUR OF SPENCE BY FOLK DUO 'THE SAWDUST JACKS'.
INTRODUCED BY DR KEITH ARMSTRONG OF 'THE THOMAS SPENCE TRUST'.

A FILM WILL BE MADE OF THE POETRY AND MUSIC.

FOLLOWED BY DRINKS IN THE CELLAR BACK ROOM, THE RED HOUSE PUB, SANDHILL, NEWCASTLE FROM 12.30PM WITH INFORMAL READINGS AND SONGS IN HONOUR OF SPENCE'S BIRTHDAY - AND, INCIDENTALLY, THAT OF KEITH ARMSTRONG!
FURTHER INFORMATION: TELEPHONE 0191 2529531.


ORGANISED BY THE THOMAS SPENCE TRUST

93 Woodburn Square, Whitley Lodge, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE26 3JD
Tel. 0191 2529531                                                                            

 
It’s good to welcome the establishment of The Thomas Spence Trust, founded by a group of Tyneside activists intent on celebrating and promoting the life and work of that noted pioneer of people’s rights, pamphleteer and poet Thomas Spence (1750-1814), who was born on Newcastle’s Quayside in those turbulent times.
Spence served in his father’s netmaking trade from the age of ten but went on later to be a teacher at Haydon Bridge Free Grammar School and at St. Ann’s Church in Byker under the City Corporation. In 1775, he read his famous lecture on the right to property in land to the Newcastle Philosophical Society, who voted his expulsion at their next meeting.
He claimed to have invented the phrase ‘The Rights of Man’ and chalked it in the caves at Marsden Rocks in South Shields in honour of the working class hero ‘Blaster Jack’ Bates,  who lived there.
He even came to blows with famed Tyneside wood engraver Thomas Bewick (to whom a memorial has been recently established on the streets of Newcastle) over a political issue, and was thrashed with cudgels for his trouble.
From 1792, having moved to London, he took part in radical agitations, particularly against the war with France. He was arrested several times for selling his own and other seditious books and was imprisoned for six months without trial in 1794, and sentenced to three years for his Restorer of Society to its Natural State in 1801.
Whilst politicians such as Edmund Burke saw the mass of people as the ‘Swinish Multitude’, Spence saw creative potential in everybody and broadcast his ideas in the periodical Pigs’ Meat.
He had a stall in London’s Chancery Lane, where he sold books and saloup, and later set up a small shop called The Hive of Liberty in Holborn.
He died in poverty ‘leaving nothing to his friends but an injunction to promote his Plan and the remembrance of his inflexible integrity’.
The Thomas Spence Trust organised a mini-festival to celebrate Spence in 2000 when it published a booklet on his life and work, together with related events, with the aid of Awards for All.
Trust founder member, poet Keith Armstrong has written a play for Bruvvers Theatre Company on the socialist pioneer which has been performed at St. Ann’s Church and other venues in the city.

Now the Trust has successfully campaigned for a plaque on the Quayside in Newcastle, where Spence was born. The plaque was unveiled on Monday June 21st 2010, Spence's 260th birthday, with a number of talks, displays and events coinciding with it.

A book 'Thomas Spence: The Poor Man's Revolutionary', edited by Alastair Bonnett and Keith Armstrong, was published by Breviary Stuff Publications, with launch events, in 2014, the 200th anniversary of Spence's death.


Further information from: The Thomas Spence Trust, 93 Woodburn Square, Whitley Lodge, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE26 3JD. Tel. 0191 2529531.


SPEECH BY DR KEITH ARMSTRONG AT THE UNVEILING OF  THE SPENCE PLAQUE IN 2010:

On behalf of The Thomas Spence Trust and Newcastle City Council, I’m delighted to welcome you here today to unveil a plaque in honour of that great free spirit, utopian writer, land reformer and courageous pioneering campaigner for the rights of men and women, Thomas Spence. Myself and other members of our Trust, especially Peter Dixon and Tony Whittle, with the support of people like Professors Joan Beal, Alastair Bonnett and Malcolm Chase and activists like Michael Mould, Alan Myers and Councillor Nigel Todd, have campaigned for well over 10 years for some kind of memorial to Tom Spence and it is with great pride that we assemble here with you today.
We know that Spence was born on the Quayside on June 21st 1750, 260 years ago to this the longest day and Summer Solstice. We know that his father Jeremiah made fishing nets and sold hardware from a booth on Sandhill and his mother Margaret kept a stocking stall, also on Sandhill, but it has not been possible, all these years on, to pinpoint the exact location of Thomas Spence’s birthplace, which is why this plaque has been installed here at Broad Garth, the site of his school room and debating society and where he actually came to blows with Thomas Bewick because of a dispute over the contentious matter of property. Bewick gave Spence a beating with cudgels on that occasion but, surprisingly enough, they remained lifelong friends. As Bewick said of Spence: ‘He was one of the warmest Philanthropists in the world and the happiness of Mankind seemed, with him, to absorb every other consideration.’
In these days of bland career politicians, Spence stands out as an example of a free spirit, prepared to go to prison for his principles - the principles of grass roots freedom, community and democracy, for the human rights of people all over the world.
Spence mobilised politically in taverns in Newcastle and later in London. That is why this afternoon, after this short ceremony, you are all invited to join us across the road in the Red House to raise a glass for Tom and to hear informal talks, poems and songs in his honour. You can hear further talks on Spence tonight at the Lit & Phil, courtesy of the Workers’ Educational Association, and next Monday at Newcastle Library, along with a display of his works, and, if you like, you can join some of us at Marsden Grotto, South Shields, tomorrow lunchtime, where Thomas first chalked the phrase ‘The Rights of Man’ on a cave wall, to raise another glass for this man who in his own words ‘dared to be free.’
This plaque puts Thomas Spence on the map for all of those pilgrims who hold human rights and political freedoms dear. It does not trap his free spirit rather it gives his life and work fresh wings.
Thanks to you all for coming this afternon on this proud day for The Thomas Spence Trust, Newcastle City Council and the citizens of this great city of ours.

FOLK SONG FOR THOMAS SPENCE

(1750-1814)


Down by the old Quayside,
I heard a young man cry,
among the nets and ships he made his way.
As the keelboats buzzed along,
he sang a seagull’s song;
he cried out for the Rights of you and me.

Oh lads, that man was Thomas Spence,
he gave up all his life
just to be free.
Up and down the cobbled Side,
struggling on through the Broad Chare,
he shouted out his wares
for you and me.

Oh lads, you should have seen him gan,
he was a man the likes you rarely see.
With a pamphlet in his hand,
and a poem at his command,
he haunts the Quayside still
and his words sing.

His folks they both were Scots,
sold socks and fishing nets,
through the Fog on the Tyne they plied their trade.
In this theatre of life,
the crying and the strife,
they tried to be decent and be strong.

Oh lads, that man was Thomas Spence,
he gave up all his life
just to be free.
Up and down the cobbled Side,
struggling on through the Broad Chare,
he shouted out his wares
for you and me.

Oh lads, you should have seen him gan,
he was a man the likes you rarely see.
With a pamphlet in his hand,
and a poem at his command,
he haunts the Quayside still
and his words sing.


KEITH ARMSTRONG




(from the music-theatre piece ‘Pig’s Meat’ written for Bruvvers Theatre Company)

6.6.16

POETRY & JAZZ




PRESS RELEASE

THE POETRY OF JAZZ  

Tyneside artists and jazz enthusiasts Keith Armstrong and Peter Dixon have created a display of colour paintings, images and poems celebrating the greats of the jazz world from Lous Armstrong to George Melly, Billie Holiday to Charles Mingus and many more. The exhibition can be viewed at JG Windows in Newcastle's Central Arcade in the Printed Music Department on first floor of the store for the immediate future.

Contact - Keith Armstrong tel 0191 2529531 or Rupert Bradbury (JG Windows) tel 0191 2321356 for further information.


KEITH ARMSTRONG

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community worker, poet, librarian and publisher, Doctor Keith Armstrong now resides in Whitley Bay. He is coordinator of the Northern Voices Community Projects creative writing and community publishing enterprise.
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 culture in the North East of England. 
His poetry has been extensively published in magazines such as New Statesman and Poetry Review as well as in the collections Splinters (2011) and The Month of the Asparagus (2011) and broadcast on radio & TV.
He has performed his poetry throughout Britain and abroad. 
In his youth, he travelled to Paris and he has been making international cultural pilgrimages ever since.



PETER DIXON

North Shields based artist, photographer and graphic designer Peter Dixon began his working life as a designer at the Shields Gazette, later becoming Senior Visualiser at the North East Co-op. He has worked in several advertising agencies and runs his own design company.
In 2012 he had a major exhibition of paintings and photographs, entitled The River and the Slake, displayed at Bede’s World, Jarrow. 
He has produced and co-written many publications and exhibitions for Northern Voices Community Projects.



MELLY

Something sad about clowns;
something thin between laughter and tears.
Pity the dignity, the love and the hate,
the twitching wire between body and soul 
and you on that stage,
drunk on rum and borrowed blues again;
unique in the balance you keep to yourself -
never quite losing it,
never quite making it;
bawling out between Magritte and Morton,
playing the droopy-drawered clown
with yourself,
you

do the Melly Belly,
the Ovaltine,
big brash belly laugh blues.



Keith Armstrong




2.6.16

GRONINGEN/NEWCASTLE LITERARY/ARTS TWINNING




 








































Keith Armstrong first visited Groningen in 1992 with poet Julia Darling to set the ball rolling. Since then there have been readings in pubs, universities, libraries, and schools and at breakfast parties, festivals, cabaret clubs and civic centres in both cities.

Successful events were held in Newcastle in October 2007 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the literary twinning between the respective cities, including a poetry and music evening at the Bridge Hotel and a reception with the City's Lord Mayor.
The then Groningen City Poet Rense Sinkgraven took part, along with fellow Groningen poet Willem Groenewegen, and Nick J. Swarth (City Poet of Tilburg) added colour to the celebrations.
The poets were joined by twinning pioneers Professor Helen Wilcox and jazz performer Allan Wilcox (on double bass and piano) and Groningen Cultural Officer Marieke Zwaving.
Keith Armstrong led the team of Newcastle performers with fellow poets Paul Summers, Poetry Jack, Catherine Graham, Ian Horn and Mick Standen.

A Groningen delegation made up of poets, publishers, journalists and cultural officers and headed by Councillor for Culture Jaap Dijkstra visited Newcastle in September 2008 and a special performance evening was held at the Ouseburn Boathouse with readings by the Groningen poets and their Newcastle counterparts incuding Keith Armstrong, Paul Summers and Ellen Phethean.

Groningen City Poet Stefan Nieuwenhuis jetted in September 2011 to join Newcastle poet Keith Armstrong at a launch of Keith's new books.
After which, Armstrong and folk musician Gary Miller appeared again in schools and cafes in Newcastle's twin city of Groningen at the end of September following on from successful appearances in 2010 where they presented their unique poems and songs in the International School, Haren Library (with a specially commissioned performance for Haren's 850th anniversary and a recital of the poems of Charles Dickens) and O'Ceallaigh's Irish Bar. During the September stay, Armstrong performed his sequence of Groningen poems, written after many visits to the city, with some settings by Miller.

The links between Groningen and Newcastle continue with Keith Armstrong planning another visit to Groningen in 2016-17.

For the record, here's a list of those artists who have made it happen so far:

Groningen literary/cultural visitors to Newcastle since 1992:

Rense Sinkgraven, Marieke Zwaving, Jaap Dijkstra, Tine Bethlehem, Albertina Soepboer, Tsead Bruinja, The Poets from Epibreren (Bart FM Droog, Tjitse Hofmann, Paul Jainandun Singh, Jan Klug), Sieger M. Geertsma, Ronald Ohlsen, Anneke Claus, Willem Groenewegen, Anton Scheepstra, Eric Nederkoorn, Herman Sandman, Emiel Matulewicz, Jeroen Engels, Entre'acte jazz duo (Allan Wilcox, Sina Keuning), Janny Boerma, Helen Wilcox, Henk Muda, Klaas Drenth, Emmeke Schurink-Plas, Willem Smit.

Newcastle visitors to Groningen since 1992:

Keith Armstrong, Julia Darling, The Poetry Virgins, Paul Summers, Ian Horn, Tony Whittle (photographer/musician), Ann Sessoms (Northumbrian Piper), Chris Ormston (Northumbrian Piper), Chris Hartnett (singer/songwriter), John Earl, Alan Clark (Nod), Dave Gaston, Michael Standen, Marie Little (singer), Gary Miller (singer/songwriter).


FURTHER INFORMATION: NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS, TEL. 0191 2529531.





31.5.16

WHIRRING OVER THE MOON FIELD















WHIRRING OVER THE MOON FIELD


On a Monday,
with fruity schnapps
boring away in my gut,
I scraped along,
through a bloodstained subway,
into a grizzly Tübingen play.
Through this fine mist,
the blessed slugs slid
in the park of
lovers and drifters;
with the clap of a scream,
the hungover day
came dawning
into our lives.
The stretch of Wilhelmstrasse
poked out my eye,
my tongue slurped around
in my brain,
looking for verse
to drown the old pain
in the mouth
of a beautiful
waitress.
‘Kiss me out of my misery,’
I breathed in her delicate ear;
she gave me a flash
of  a Swabian smile,
a hint of Wurttemberg lace.
I stared at her eyes the whole morning,
alone by the cafe door;
I injected my coffee with whisky
as crazy clouds winked
through dark blinds.
‘Eines Tages als die Gurke sirrend über das Mondfeld haspelte.’
(‘One day when the cucumber reeled whirring over the moon field.’):
I had had too much to think,
needed the touch
of a swallow in sunlight;
the love of a sky blue hostess
on the wings
of this wasted day.





KEITH ARMSTRONG















Street Art on Wilhelmstrasse, Tübingen on a wall which separates Osiander Bookshop (no 12) from Cafe Schöne Aussichten (no 16) 

27.5.16

CHARLIE ST GEORGE'S BAR, LIMERICK, IRELAND











































FOR ROBERT MY GOOD FRIEND


Solidarity
was the word I was looking for
down the lanes of Temple Bar
between the tourist spots
and the poetry slots of all Ireland.
And at last I found it
in Charlie St George’s bar
clashing glasses of Guinness with you
Robert my good friend,
blessing the magical days
when we were born
to share our dribbling verses,
our hard-earned lines,
between ourselves
but above all with others
of our gentle persuasion
whether here in Limerick’s rain-soaked lanes
with Richard Harris
or in Newcastle’s Bridge Hotel
with William Blake
over the cobbles of our dreams
to airport lounges
and soaring planes,
just anywhere at all
to fly our poems.
For this I thank you Robert,
for staying with me,
for offering strong friendship
when all the world is falling apart around us.
Let us celebrate love again
in a pint of plain
and poetry in our memorable smiles
this day by the glorious Shannon
and in the sunlight of the River Tyne.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

23.5.16

THE MONTH OF THE ASPARAGUS






















 





It was the month of the asparagus

and you kissed me by the river

with the rain flowing down your face.

It was the day you burst 

like a volcano,

gushing all over me

as we ran

down Neckargasse,

exulting

in the sky weeping all over us

and in the laughter of children

splashing in the damp raging day.



It was the month of the asparagus

when our dreams landed

through the attic window of Lange Gasse 18.

It was the day my heart rang

with all the bells of Tuebingen

and my bones ached

with the weight of memory,

the sad loss,

hanging over us

a mountainous cloud of longing,

full with the tangy moisture

of new songs and poems.



It was the month of the asparagus

when I zoomed in to meet you

with my arms open to the grand afternoon.

O what a day

when I came again to see you 

with my heart heavy,

riddled with the seeds

of creative delight and the light

of a stream of wondrous moments

pouring,

the length of Wilhelmstrasse,

into the very realms of hope.











19.5.16

ERIK SATIE’S RAGTIME DADA



 






































(inspired by Kurt Schwitters’ & Theo Van Doesberg’s ‘Little Dada Soiree’, 1925)

At the Black Cat Cabaret,
you raved the night away:
Eric Alfred Leslie Satie,
Pride of Honfleur,
Rider of Montmartre.

And Suzanne Valadon was your one real flame
burning under your seven velvet corduroy suits.
In Arcueil, at 22 Rue Cauchy,
you had them stashed away;
parading twenty kilometres each day
to and from the bars of Paris.

This ‘Velvet Gentleman’ changed
to bowler, black suit and umbrella;
a troubadour of magic songs,
Cubist of poverty and despair:
Burlesque Bolshevik,
Parisienne Poser,
Pleuratric Palatic,
Cirrhotic Symphonist,
Wishful Winker,
Fisticuffed Fantasist,
Sloshed Sailor
of glorious dreams
on this earthly, earthy Earth.

Erik Satie’s Ragtime Dada
dancing with a swaggering Wit:
‘Monsieur le Pauvre’,
lazy, mystical, prole,
rich with the slaver
of musical clouds,
the starstruck nights of the Middle Ages,
notes flying out
of cages.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

18.5.16

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



12.5.16

THE BIRD WOMAN OF WHITLEY BAY






















Photo by Tony Whittle 















She is out feeding the birds,
on the dot again,
in the drizzle of a seaside morning;
the seed 
cast fom her hand
to the jerking beak of a cock pheasant.

She is alone 
in a flock of dark starlings,
scattering crumbs to make them shriek.

She is a friend of spuggies,
gives blackbirds water.

Her eyes fly across the garden
to catch a quick robin,
to spot a wee wren,
to chase a bold magpie.

She is innocence,
she is a lovely old lady;
still giving,
still nursing.

She deserves heaven,
she deserves a beautiful nest
to dream out her last hours 
in bird song;
in the rich colours of music,
in the red feathers of sunset,
she is my mother,
she is a rare bird
who fed me beautiful dreams.

Thank you for letting me climb 
with the skylarks.

Thank you
for the strength of wings. 




KEITH ARMSTRONG









































 



Thank you very much for this poem. Ever since I have heard you reading it out at “Poems, Prose, Pints” it has been on my mind – it’s written in such a gentle and honest voice. The poem may be dedicated to your mum, but, as you said in the pub, it’s something you could say about all mums. I certainly feel reminded of my own mother, who died not so long ago, when I read the poem.
Love
Brigitte

Hi Keith

Thanks for this beautiful poem.

Tim G

Dear Keith ! Thank you very much. You read this poem when you were here in Groningen. It moves me each time I read or hear it. Nice talking to you on the phone yesterday. All the best, yours, Henk

Thanks Keith - you moved me.

All best
Chrissie

The Bird Woman of Whitley is a lovely poem, Keith.  Beautiful tribute.

Trish.

You amazing poet YOU
- thank you for that that poem - it deserves a very good moment, but I will translate it.
Uwe

Lovely poem!
Keep sending them!

Julie

Good poem, Keith
Cheers
SallyE

Thank you, Keith, thank you –
 For bringing a fulsome tear to my eye with the sad and beautifully-crafted The Bird Woman of Whitley. How amazingly coincidental and serendipitous that you should have numbered me amongst those privileged to receive it because, just this afternoon, I have put in the post to you my Christmas book (in Irish) An Nollaig sa Naigín (Christmas in the Noggin [my homeplace]), which has in it the story Céad Sneachta na Nollag (First Christmas Snow), which features my own mother feeding two birds, they being the Robin and the Wren!!!!
 Bravo, my friend, and thank you for giving me the delight of reading so beautiful a poem.


Thats a nice poem Keith. Is that lady really your mum?


Mick

Thanks for sending me this beautiful poem. It really moved me. I have a special Mother too, she hasn't a selfish thought in her body. 

Cheers
Catherine Graham

Hi Keith loved the poem

Mike

Thanks for your beautiful poem Keith. I must write something special to my mum. 

Paul

the jingling geordie

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