A doughty champion of his local culture.(Poet Tom Hubbard)Your performance at the city hall was soooooooooo good! Christoph thought it was excellent! (Carolyn)


son of tyne



“Can I meet you?”
“It depends on the tides,” she said.
“Can I hold you,
Kiss you all over,
Lick the dew from your eyes,
Feel your white skin,
Touch your tongue with mine,
Stroke you,
Breathe in your ears,
Smell your hair,
Share the night with you?”
“It depends on the tides,” she said.



and there again


views of my city


I always thought
that, when you smiled,
Groningen seemed a prettier place
to me
and the Grote Markt,
beneath my unsteady feet,
hugged me
like my father did
in his strong and quiet way.
It is always good,
when I am travelling,
to know
that I have friends
in many strange and different cities
and keys to many doors.
For nothing is ever fixed
or permanent.
Smiles are only fleeting
but one like yours
shines bright
in the very beer of sunlight;
in the anxious heart
of this Newcastle poet.



from writer joachim zelter in tuebingen

Hi Keith,

Thank you for being one of the chosen readers of your lovely poems which you keep sending me and which I thoroughly enjoy reading - one of the rare examples of contemporary poetry which has something to say and which I can actually understand and even enjoy.

Many greetings from Tübingen awaiting to be cherished by more of your poetry, verse and music conjoined.



armstrong live in neckartenzlingen!

local newspapers

I, too, mourn good local newspapers. But this lot just aren't worth saving

The idea of democratic flag-bearers died decades ago. I can count on one hand those brave enough to speak truth to power

They are the pillars of the community, champions of the underdog, the scourge of corruption, defenders of free speech. Their demise could deal a mortal blow to democracy. Any guesses yet? How many of you thought of local newspapers?

But this is the universal view of the national media: local papers – half of which, on current trends, are in danger of going down in the next five years – are all that stand between us and creeping dictatorship.

Like my colleagues, I mourn their death; unlike them I believe it happened decades ago. For many years the local press has been one of Britain's most potent threats to democracy, championing the overdog, misrepresenting democratic choices, defending business, the police and local elites from those who seek to challenge them. Media commentators lament the death of what might have been. It bears no relationship to what is.

I'm prompted to write this by a remarkable episode in my home town, Machynlleth, which illustrates the problem everywhere. A battle has been raging here over Tesco's attempt to build a superstore on the edge of town. Its application received 685 letters of objection and five letters of support, but the town council, which appears to believe everything Tesco says, supports the scheme. The local paper, the Cambrian News, appears in turn to believe everything the council tells it.

A couple of weeks ago consultants hired by Powys county council published a retail impact assessment which supports the arguments put forward by the objectors. If the new store is built, the assessment says, it will cause trade in the centre to decline and generate longer and less sustainable shopping trips. How did the Cambrian News respond to this devastating blow to Tesco's application? By running a smear job on its front page.

According to the town clerk, the consultants had fabricated a complaint by the local butcher. They had claimed to represent his views in their assessment, saying that he feared he would be forced out of business by Tesco – "but they haven't even spoken to him!". The Cambrian News, ironically, ran this story without speaking to the butcher, the consultants, or, apparently, performing even the briefest check. Its only informants were the town clerk and the councillors, who lined up to say that the behaviour of the consultants was "disgusting", that they were "scaremongering" and that they should apologise to the butcher. It took me 30 seconds to discover that the story was completely untrue: the assessment says nothing about the butcher or his shop.

I asked the editor of the Cambrian News to tell me whether her reporter had read the assessment before filing his story, or whether anyone at the paper had checked it. Her response was priceless. "Any information that we obtain, we keep exclusively for the Cambrian News and do not pass it on to rival newspapers." I pointed out that I wasn't trying to steal her non-story, but asking her to defend her decision to publish it. She has not replied.

This petty affair is a synecdoche for the state of local journalism. Most local papers exist to amplify the voices of their proprietors and advertisers and other powerful people with whom they wish to stay on good terms. In this respect they scarcely differ from most of the national media. But they also contribute to what in Mexico is called caciquismo: the entrenched power of local elites. This is the real threat to local democracy, not the crumpling of the media empires of arrogant millionaires.

Since May, Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University, has been running a series on the Guardian's website called "Why local papers count". It's a brave effort, but it demonstrates the opposite of what he sets out to show. In six months he has managed to provide just one instance of real journalism: a report by the Kentish Express on the inflated costs of upgrading a local road. Otherwise he appears to have found no example of local papers holding power to account.

There's one respect in which the local press is confronting power: by campaigning against the free papers published by local authorities. These, the papers say, are propaganda sheets, which provide a biased view of council business. Does that sound familiar? In his book Flat Earth News, Nick Davies cites a survey of press releases issued across two months by Northumberland county council. Ninety-six percent of them were turned into stories by local papers. In many cases the papers copied the releases verbatim; in no case did they add any information. They might as well have been published by the council.

The failures of the local press are often blamed on consolidation by the big media corporations, which have squeezed as much money out of their collapsing possessions as they can, leaving no funds for real journalism. Davies, for example, asked a reporter on a regional paper to keep a diary for a week. In just five days the reporter published 48 stories. He came across one original story in that period, but he didn't have time to pursue it, so he let it drop. Otherwise he just recycled old copy, lifted stories from other papers or simply concocted them.

But this is not the whole reason for the failure of the local press. The Cambrian News, for instance, is owned by the man who is universally hailed as the only success story in local publishing: Sir Ray Tindle. His company, which runs 230 papers, is independent, free from debt and booming, but it suffers from many of the diseases that afflict the rest of the press. When the Iraq war began, Tindle ordered his editors "to ensure that nothing appears in your newspapers which attacks the decision to conduct the war". His letter was reproduced in the Totnes Times, with the following comments. "In a brave move, which could easily be seen by some as censoring the news, Sir Ray ordered that once war in Iraq was declared his newspapers would not carry any more anti-war stories … As editorial manager of eight of Sir Ray's titles, I am proud to say I totally agree with his decision."

It's true that the vacuity and cowardice of the local papers has been exacerbated by consolidation, profit-seeking, the collapse of advertising revenues and a decline in readership. But even if they weren't subject to these pressures, they would still do more harm than good. Local papers defend the powerful because the powerful own and fund them. I can think of only two local newspapers that consistently hold power to account: the West Highland Free Press and the Salford Star. Are any others worth saving? If so, please let me know. Yes, we need a press that speaks truth to power, that gives voice to the powerless and fights for local democracy. But this ain't it.



Interview with Keith Armstrong in Fitzgerald's, Whitley Bay

TDR: Keith, successful artists always combine talent with the ability to promote themselves. Do you still have to sell poetry, or is your poetry and performance more or less sustaining?

Keith: Well, I still have to keep pushing. For quite a few years now, I have been working freelance and you can easily be forgotten. Poetry is my craft, both on the page and in performance, so I burn with the desire to get my work across to as many people as possible. I am going to Prague again soon, performing in cabaret settings, where there might be 20 to 30 people, but I like doing that; the vibes, the interaction and the feedback you get.

TDR: I get the sense of great passion for your work. What has poetry done for you personally? Has it helped you to understand yourself; be the real Keith Armstrong?

Keith: The real Keith Armstrong? Yeah! There is a poem I can send you that I wrote the other week, because, believe it or not, I’m not the only Keith Armstrong on this planet. There is another one in Newcastle, who is a record producer, and he’s a bit of a nuisance, because he’s become quite famous. We met on the Metro a few years ago and we compared notes.

TDR: There is frustration, anger and love – all the emotions in your work. Have we lost the plot somewhere with what some see as a destructive, insensitive society today?

Keith: I like politics with passion; not the blandness of Blair. Then, I’ve never been a card-carrying member of the Communist Party either. What I breathe is anarchy, but anarchy in a constructive sense.

TDR: Why Whitley Bay? Is this a new refuge for you?

Keith: Well, I was born in Newcastle. My father was a shipyard worker, as you may have gathered; my mother was a nurse and we came to Whitley Bay as a kind of dormitory, really – and for a slightly posher house. I like to be beside the sea. If I am not by the sea, I feel stranded. Whitley Bay does that for me. Of course, Whitley Bay has its Spanish City; I don’t know if you’ve heard about that? I 've written a poem called 'Garcia Lorca in Whitley Bay', so I feel that I can write poetry about any area.

TDR: We all come from the North East, which encompasses a vast area. Do we need to work together in the different regions more effectively? You have done much to bring people together; how can we bring all the pieces into a whole?

Keith: Well, I’m an inveterate networker. I do believe in making links with Teesside and Wearside, but the idea of creating a community of poets rather appals me. You don’t do this kind of thing just because you can get a grant for it. I don’t mind getting a grant, but you have to respect the complexities and sometimes the historical rivalries at times between Newcastle and Middlesbrough, for example.

TDR: Your CV reads like a ‘Who’s-Who’ of poetry and performance. Does poetry support your lifestyle, or do you support the poetry?

Keith: I think it’s integrated. There isn’t any separation between me, as a human being, trying to struggle through life and being a poet. I’m often found in the back of a taxi, late at night, reciting my poems to a bemused cabman – which I’m rather proud of!

TDR: You have travelled extensively and participated actively in the international poetry scene. Is good poetry, your poetry, as readily understood, applauded, in fact, in Prague as it is in Gateshead?

Keith: It’s probably more popular in Prague than in Gateshead! You know, Prague has such a long cultural history behind it and I go there in cafes and read my poetry in English. But there are a lot of ex-pats in Prague. It’s quite difficult to get through to the genuine Czechs. You have to cut through these ex-pats to get to them. But I do go out of my way to understand the Czech culture, whether it’s Havel or Kafka; to make an attempt to understand the place, not to go in there only on an ego-trip.

TDR: The poetry talent in our region partly stems from strong qualities of survival, humour and unpretentiousness, yet we are somewhat isolated from the London scene. How do we stack up in the Capital?

Keith: I never had a good relationship with London. I find it something of a beast, really, feeding off the provinces. I realise that London is really a collection of villages. I’m part-Celt, part-Viking, part-Northumbrian. That’s why I’m more headed towards Europe than London; more headed towards Edinburgh. Armstrong is a Scottish name. I identify more with the border ballad culture or tradition. I work quite a bit with folk musicians, Northumbrian pipers and singers. I like to express my roots and my history – it’s very hard to put that across in London!

TDR: How can we make poetry a viable economic commodity? Artists can survive by painting Whitley Bay. Can poets do that?

Keith: Well, I live – I survive! I put in appeals to the Arts Council of England. I try to charm the pants off the Literature Officer and frequently fail! Well, I can get occasional subsidies; I put in some part-time teaching, but I also put in applications to key foundations, not just Arts Council North East. I diversify! I think that you have to commit to muddling through, rather than getting rich.


I am the other Keith Armstrong

The Chief Executive of Slime
The King of the Bank of England
The slob of convention
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The head of an advertiser
The brains of capital
The puke of celebrity
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The quango rat
The official in uniform
The master of ceremony
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The snide critic
The illiterate journalist
The central hack
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The arch competitor
The success of a banker
The conceptual accountant
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The deadly soldier
The machine gunner of poetry
The committed committee man
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The party prune
The rock and roll businessman
The Head of Leisure
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The hard lad of literature
The thug of the Arts
The political cleansing agent
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The industrious loot collector
The fruit machine wanker
The precision bomber
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The foul mouthed gourmet
The government terrorist
The casual rapist
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The dreamer of cash
The crusher of bird song
The killer of whales
I am the other Keith Armstrong
The gagger of truth
The scribbler of emptiness
The slaughterer of dreams

I am the other Keith Armstrong


(For Gary)

There’s a man in Paxton

who is researching stars

and that musical telescope of his

stares out of the village window

to pierce a broader darkness.

There is a universal symphony in his breath,

picked up from the folk whistling

in the rain-kissed street.

There’s a child singing across the borders

and the sky is a chorus

of screaming clouds.

Our man of music in Paxton

scratches notes as he opens his mind.

He calls out

under the leaping rainbow

for a song to enter

his soul.

He wants to name a star after his wife.

He wants to write Jane a song.

There is nothing more beautiful than the sight of Space:

‘Nothing more terrible than the beauty of music’, he says.

And, while his songs are soaring to the stars,

in the name of his radiant life,

he knows his Dad’s bones are cracking with age

and he knows there are days

when his guitar will sob

in the village darkness.

But, tonight, he has named a star ‘Jane’

and, while life is forever such struggle,

he has written a lovely song in Paxton

and taught his son Archie to dance in the sky.

Keith Armstrong



Award-winning Northern Poets
Dr. Keith Armstrong Katrina Porteous Paul Summers Cynthia Fuller William Martin
with musicians Gary Miller and Marie Little

perform their work in support of Palestinian education.

Wednesday December 2nd 7.30 pm
Fisher House, Ustinov College, Durham University
South Road, Durham DH1 3DE

Light refreshments and bar

All proceeds to the Durham Palestine Educational Trust

admission £4.00 (students £3)



I once shook the hand of a man who shook the hand

of a man who shook the hand of a man who shook the hand

of a man who shook the hand of a man who shook the hand

of a man who shook the hand of a man who shook the hand

of Che Guevara.


seamus heaney takes a day off

from a geordie lady in penrith

Thank you for the gift of poetry books, I have read them in the last few days, my favourite is An Oubliette for Kitty, it invokes melancholy in a heart felt way, reminding us all the circle of life moves forward, change is inevitable, but we must look back too. Ah Keith you have made me homesick ( recurring problem!) Happy times spent at the Side Gallery viewing wonderful and gritty photographs by Jimmy Forsyth of Scotswood long gone. My memories of New Year: at 12-00 am the foghorns of the ships on the Tyne would herald the arrival of the new year, signalling to my dad stood outside clasping his piece of coal it was time to first foot and get into the warmth with Jimmy Shand on the telly. I used to share my bed with the comforting sound of the night shift welders, industrial lullaby. Where we live has its own beauty, alas no ships fog horns to hail and welcome the new year. Last but not least no one calls me hinny any more.
I wish you continuing success as the bard, waxing lyrical and passionate.
Travel with love,


the shakespeare centre, kendal

The Shakespeare Theatre was built in 1829 and was Kendal’s first purpose built theatre. It was designed by John Richardson, a local architect. Edmund Kean, a nationally famous actor played at the theatre in 1832.

Both poverty in Kendal, and pressure from the Quakers, Presbyterians and Temperance groups, forced the theatre to close five years after opening. It continued in use as a ballroom, before being converted to the New Life Community Church in 1994.

armstrong in the oberon room, kendal!

Oberon is a legendary king of the fairies in medieval and Renaissance literature. He is best known as a character in William Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, written in the mid-1590s, in which he is Consort to Titania, Queen of the Fairies.


Book of the Month:

Common Words and the Wandering Star
Keith Armstrong, University of Sunderland Press, £7.95
Jack Common (1903-1968) was born in Newcastle, and is best known today for his autobiographical novel, ‘Kiddar's Luck’, detailing his early life growing up on the back streets of Heaton. I say “best known today” but, as a literary figure, he has perhaps been better known as a friend of George Orwell. Like Orwell, Common’s political leanings were socialist in nature but unlike his much more feted friend, he could genuinely claim to be working class. However, the difficulties Common felt between staying true to his roots, while also pursing a career away from Newcastle, among the metropolitan literati, would lead to a certain amount of tension. And it’s this dichotomy that informs much of the thrust of this excellent biography. Armstrong (also from Heaton) traces Common’s path from his self-taught beginnings, through to his leaving Newcastle and onto his work writing for The Adelphi (a leftist magazine) and his friendship with Orwell. And in his readings of his work, Armstrong forcefully makes the case that Common deserves to be seen as a literary voice of considerable merit in his own right, and not just a footnote in Orwell’s life. RM

the jingling geordie

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