from professor malcolm chase, university of leeds

Dear Keith

I've just completed reading Splinters, and wanted to let you know how much I've enjoyed and been stimulated by it.

Congratulations on a noble collection and a fine achievement.

Hope all's well with you.
Best wishes as ever,




‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ (Oscar Wilde)

Headlong, headstrong
Hermann Hesse
fell, flat on his face, in the Tuebingen mud.
“That’s it! Get stuck into the shit!”,
an ageing Swabian yelled.
And the church-bells throbbed along Lange Gasse,
and the dust fell on Heckenhauer’s Bookshop.
And, as young Hermann slithered to his fumbling feet
and cleaned his shitty glasses,
his first poems
shone in the moonlit gutter.

Keith Armstrong,

Note: The writer Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) was born in Calw and, at the age of 19, began a four year period of work in Heckenhauer’s bookshop in Tuebingen. It was then that he began writing and, during this time,  he published his first poems as ‘Romantic Songs’.


Reception for Kostroma delegation at Durham Town Hall. 
Photos by Tony Whittle.


Twin the Wear with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Durham Revolution,
let a peaceful breeze blow here.

There’s this comrade in the Market Tavern,
looks like Nikita Khrushchev.
There’s a Moscow moon on top of his head,
his face is all ruddy and red.
Back in Russia, 
there’s a border reiver,
a wild vodka look in his eye,
he’s riding a horse like a cossack
from Kostroma to Crook Town and back.

Reach across water me darling,
it’s worth it.
Spread out your nets and your arms.
You might get a hot Russian lover
and Igor a sweet Wearside lass. 

So twin the Wear with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Durham Revolution,
let a peaceful breeze blow here.

There’s this strapping lad in the Kremlin,
he’s from an Easington back lane.
He’s wearing old Lenin’s disused fur hat,
there’s a Marxist tattoo on his chest.
Back in Durham,
there’s a soviet cosmonaut,
with a fishing rod in his hand,
he’s trying for a catch in the gathering dusk
as the river slides from yellow to black.  

Share a strong jar with me sweetheart, 
it’s warm now.
Hold the smile on your face.
You can sail light on the Baltic
and fly to the Urals with me.   

So twin the Wear with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Durham Revolution,
let a peaceful breeze blow here.




Through an arch of towering plane trees,
I reach to touch the hips
of an upright Swabian girl,
her lips
fresh with strawberries
from a breakfast bowl of kisses
sprinkled with sugar
and yesterday’s cream.
The birds of the Platanenallee
fly on the wings of melancholy,
the breeze of history
scenting their songs.
It dawns on me
that the rain
will lash against our faces
as we push our way
through the saluting wood.
The day is crumbling already
around us
with the leaves memorably
crunching under our futile tread.
Half way along the soaking avenue,
the sun like a song
sparkles in my eyes
and lights my last hours
with the beauty of skies.
And suddenly
you are there
your lump of a statue
bursting though the leaves,
a kind of terrible stone
trapping your crumbling tunes 
inside rock.
To take a frail life
and carve it into something immortal
is a folly as well as a tribute
to the hypocrisy of pompous little leaders
seeking to employ music
for their brutal ends.
So I say
and so we sing
of beautiful glances
and military funerals
of dead songbirds
in the path of bullets.
I climb in spirit
to reach the flesh of this lovely girl,
for a moment
I am happy and then it is gone
behind the clouds of war.
And this is for you Friedrich
from my fluttering heart
in a sea of shaking branches,
reaching out
for humanity
to triumph
over the horror
of the mundane, 
a gift of a song for you,
a lovely glass of wine
as the armies march again
into the blind alley
of a bleak despair:

Can't you see
I love you?
Please don't break my heart in two,
That's not hard to do,
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart.
And if you say goodbye,
Then I know that I would cry,
Maybe I would die,
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart.

There's no strings upon this love of mine,
It was always you from the start.
Treat me nice,
Treat me good,
Treat me like you really should,
'Cause I'm not made of wood,
And I don't have a wooden heart.

Muss i denn, muss i denn
Zum Staedtele hinaus,
Staedtele hinaus,
Und du, mein schat, bleibst hier?

Muss i denn, muss i denn
Zum Staedtele hinaus,
Staedtele hinaus,
Und du, mein schat, bleibst hier?
(Got to go, got to go,
Got to leave this town,
Leave this town
And you, my dear, stay here?).

There's no strings upon this love of mine,
It was always you from the start,
Sei mir gut,
Sei mir gut,
Sei mir wie du wirklich sollst,
Wie du wirklich sollst,
(Treat me nice,
Treat me good,
Treat me like you really should,
Like you really should), 
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart.


*Swabian musician Philipp Friedrich Silcher originally composed the tune, based on a folk lyric, used in the pop song ‘Wooden Heart’. His statue is in Tuebingen by the River Neckar.

'Beautiful poem, most moving and made me think again. It should be sung.' (Gitte Schwarze).



Many thanks for last night. Everyone found it very interesting. A number of people spoke to me about how the material was delivered in an accessible way. You certainly whetted many appetites, as the questions demonstrated.  A fine piece of missionary work. 

Brian Bennison, North East Labour History Society.

Radical idea unearthed in Newcastle
A revolutionary document that lay undiscovered in a Newcastle library for over 200 years has just been published.
Thomas Spence’s penny pamphlet Property and Land in Every One’s Right is one of the founding texts of the English radical tradition, pre-dating Marxism.
Believed lost for many years, the original has not been in print since 8 November 1775.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the death of its author - an important and original voice in political history.
“Spence’s story is a rags to rags tale of defiance and ingenuity,” explains Prof Bonnett, of Newcastle University. “Today his name is little known but this in no way reflects his significance. ’Spenceanism', which called for the democratic, common ownership of the land, was once hugely influential among the poor,” he adds. “It also appears to be the only political ideology to have ever been outlawed by the British Parliament.”
Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revolutionary is edited by Prof Bonnett and local poet Keith Armstrong, and includes expert opinions from all over the world about the wide-ranging impact of this unique, working-class polymath.
To reach a mass, semi-literate audience, Spence invented his own phonetic alphabet and spread his message in unique ways, issuing thousands of coins embossed with political messages.
“Perhaps Spence can be best summed up by one of the inscriptions he placed on one of his self-minted coins, the coin his friends chose to place in his coffin,” says Prof Bonnett. “It depicts a cat, staring straight out at us, and around it are the words, ‘IN SOCIETY LIVE FREE LIKE ME’.
“He was very stubborn and not at all interested in compromise, or reforms and half-freedoms.”
Born into poverty on Newcastle Quayside in 1750, Spence is seen as the father of children's rights. He also accorded women equal democratic rights and is believed to be the first person to write about 'the rights of man' in English.
In 1787 he moved to London, setting up a bookshop on Chancery Lane, and became immersed in the capital’s turbulent radical sub-culture. He went to prison for selling Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, but disagreed with him on a number of fundamental issues so began issuing his own inflammatory penny weekly, Pigs’ Meat or, Lessons for the Swinish Multitude. “Spence took considerable risks in a dangerous city: spies, threats and conspiracy swirled around him,” says Prof Bonnett. “His wish for ‘perfect freedom’ often took him one step further than his peers.”
Prof Bonnett will be discussing Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revolutionary, with Dr Keith Armstrong at the North East Labour History Society Open Meeting at 7pm on 18 November 2014 at the Lit & Phil, Westgate Road, Newcastle http://www.litandphil.org.uk/index.shtml
Notes to Newsdesks:
(i) Dr David Garner-Medwin, who died in June 2014, was leafing through some battered 18th century documents at the Literary and Philosophical Society when he came across an intriguing penny pamphlet titled ‘Property and Land in Every One’s Right, dated 8 November 1775. He immediately recognised it as one of Thomas Spence’s founding texts of the English radical tradition.
(ii) Three years after Spence’s death an Act of Parliament was passed prohibiting ‘All societies or clubs calling themselves Spencean or Spencean Philanthropists’.
(iii) Prof Bonnett will be discussing Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revolutionary, with joint editor Dr Keith Armstrong, at the North East Labour History Society Open Meeting at 7pm on 18 November 2014 at the Lit & Phil, Newcastle.
(iv) Book details: Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revoluntionary pub Breviary Stuff Publications £15.00 214pp paperback ISBN 978-0-9570005-9-9 http://www.breviarystuff.org.uk/thomas-spence-the-poor-mans-revolutionary
(v) For more information, contact Newcastle University press office on 0191 208 7580 or email press.office@ncl.ac.uk
Sarah Cossom
Media Relations Manager
Corporate Affairs
Newcastle University
King's Gate
Newcastle upon Tyne

Direct line: 0191 208 6067
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3:30pm to 4:00pm - Joe Sharkey talking a bit about the book with some musical interludes and poems by Keith Armstrong.

4:00pm to 4:45-5pm - Burger and chips from the BBQ and book sales (or exchange/give complimentary copies etc.).

5:00pm - stand-up John Scott does a set to finish the event (probably about 20 minutes).




A northern town,
world famous for its tripe.
This was most evident
at its open mic.




This is life,
the gloss and the flesh,
Weigh House of passion and flame.

You can get lost in this market’s amazement
but you can never lose yourself.

a sleep walk in these grazing crowds
can feel like a stroll through your brain.

Keith Armstrong

A city
within a city,

light cage.

Bazaar and blind,
these swollen alleys

flow with a teeming life’s blood.

Geordie !

Swim for your life !

Keith Armstrong

Photos: Peter Dixon



Review by Robert Nichols Wednesday 15 Oct 2014 
It is 30 years now since the Miners Strike but in a church hall in Easington Colliery the struggles, the camaraderie and the bitter feuds and divisions were remembered as if it was yesterday.
Last night Community Arts Theatre Company One For All Productions told the story of that fateful strike from the perspective of the women that were the glue in the north east coalfield community. The four members of the acting cast and one singer drew on stories and anecdotes from the women that fed and sustained the society and stood side by side with men on the picket lines. What made it all the more poignant for me was that many of the women whose stories were being voiced were sitting in the audience reliving it all again.
Interspersed with snapshots of lives from 1984 were the often heart wrenching testimonials from young girls that worked down the pits before the 1842 Royal Commission sent them back to the surface. With poems from Keith Armstrong, Christine Hogg and Florence Anderson and songs by Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg this play took you back into the sitting rooms and soup kitchens of 1984.
It was inspiring to hear of how the pit villages initially banded together and it was almost wartime like community spirit. But we heard shocking evidence of the attacks from without and within. There was extreme police harassment on the main streets of Easington as the coalfields became the frontline in a political battle field against an enemy within.
One For All were not seeking to re fan the flames of the blame game but were laying out the record from both sides and exposing the impact on the lives of the real women and their families. There was compassion but also hatred and real suffering for their cause. Food was scarce. Bills went unpaid. Stress and depression stalked the streets at night. There should have been no Christmas in Easington that year and yet they all rallied round to make it a special time.
Sad to think that the end of the strike was all too soon after followed by the end for the pits and with it a way of life and community. But in amongst the sadness there was a final defiant message that the women of that community were still there and fighting back.
Some of the words expertly voiced by the women on stage were from Heather Wood seated in the front row of the audience. After 30 years she is regaining her confidence to organise and rally the community to a cause, this time for the church whose fabric is in perilous condition. In a moving final scene the cast joined together to sing the stirring strike anthem, Women of the Working Classes. At the onset of the strike they were normal housewives, mothers, sisters and daughters yet many found a strength and a voice in a very dark hour when their community was being wrenched apart.
I felt very privileged to part of this special evening when the story of the women from the striking coalfields as told again. It was more memorable still that many of those women were seated in the audience and 30 years on their tales of heroism and defiance were given a platform and accorded deserved recognition. An inspiring story.
A Postcript
Afterwards in the Miners Welfare Hall, Heather Wood told us of her fears about a kind of fracking that is being eyed up in East Durham. The coal seams closed off at the end of mining at Easington are still there extending far beneath the sea. They are now talking of extracting gas by burning the coal. Heather worries about the dangers and lack of safeguards to control an inferno that could potentially blaze for miles underground east and west. She points to lessons from history, etched into the coal here in Easington where 83 were killed by an explosion underground in a disaster in 1951. The Inquiry was actually held in the very building we were sitting in.
Easington Colliery - Ascension Church Hall. One For All Productions. 84 Tuesday 15th October 2014 - Director John McMahon

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poet and raconteur