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)


limerick in march & isle of man in may!



The winner of this year's Northern Voices Award is Gordon Frank Phillips. It was presented to Gordon at a special event, including a Thomas Spence book launch, in Newcastle's Red House on Burns Night 25th January in the presence of the Sheriff of Newcastle, with readings from Gordon and others including Katrina Porteous, Paul Summers, Dr Keith Armstrong, Trevor Leonard, Brian Hall, Catherine Graham, Robert Lonsdale, Dominic Windram, Trevor Teasdel, Dave Alton with Ann Sessoms (pipes) and songs from Gary Miller.
Gordon Phillips has been a writer ever since he came second in a National Schools Association Poetry Competition when he lived in St Albans. He could have gone into the print trade like his father but ‘he was never any good with his hands’. He was educated at Newcastle University where he specialised in writing, memory and culture. Over the years he has written articles, book and theatre reviews for various magazines including Education Review, The Good Book Guide and Theatre. His poems and fiction have been published nationally and internationally, in particular, Australia and the USA, in school textbooks and anthologies like New Angles by Oxford University Press and Enjoying English by Macmillan. His other work has been as a librettist and lyricist, writing King Taor, a cantata for Gateshead Schools, Five Songs in Wansbeck Settings for a 20000 Voices project in Northumberland and writing some of the text as part of Five Operas, a multi-media project for schoolchildren in Essex. At the moment, he is busy writing a folksong cycle, The Square and Compass about St Mary's Island in North Tyneside and a satire The Bull and Bear Song Cycle with a North American composer. When he is not involved in creative projects he is tutoring in Creative Writing, Literature and running a Writers’ Workshop.

Other winners of the award have been William Martin, Alan C. Brown, Katrina Porteous, Catherine Graham, Gordon Hodgeon, Paul Summers and Trevor Teasdel.

More information from Northern Voices tel 0191 2529531

Aye! it was a good beer-swilling-whisky-totting night. Burns would have been proud.



We had a great night thanks very much. Will you let us know when there is anything else going on please?


Many thanks for inviting us all up, we all thoroughly enjoyed the night, it is always great to meet up with you and hopefully we will always continue to do so, we all thought the poetry was " whizzo " encased in a very atmospheric venue, so give yourself a big pat on the back for organising last night Keith, I thought " Geoff " the Sheriff of Newcastle got really involved in the "do " and made a smashing contribution for a non - poeter, I hope we can do this again sometime soon Keith and I look forward to meeting up again, until when, take care old friend and long may you continue to write such tremendous poetry, very best Regards Robert.

Many thanks for inviting me to join you all this evening - I had the loveliest time.

Good poetry, good music and lovely people.

I'll look forward to the next event!

All good wishes
Catherine x

a great night and great contributions, varied combination made it such. well done, Keith, for pulling everybody together.


ps Burns would have loved it.




Edited by Keith Armstrong, with an introduction by Professor Joan Beal and a new essay by Professor Malcolm Chase

Published with the support of Awards For All and the Lipman-Miliband Trust

Soon after Spence moved to London, Thomas Bewick’s brother John wrote home that Spence was ‘as full of his Coally Tyne Poetry as ever’.

This reprint is a celebration of that noted pioneer of people’s rights, pampleteeer and poet Thomas Spence, born on Newcastle’s Quayside in 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’ who lived there.

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

Newcastle City Council has endorsed the Trust and Commissions North allocated £1000 as a seeding grant.

PRICE £5 ISBN 978-1-871536-16-2





I am a small and humble man,
my body frail and broken.
I strive to do the best I can.
I spend my life on tokens.

I traipse through Holborn all alone,
hawking crazy notions.
I am the lonely people’s friend.
I live on schemes and potions.

For, in my heart and in my mind,
ideas swarm right through me.
Yes, in this Hive of Liberty,
my words just flow ike wine,
my words just flow like wine.

I am a teeming worker bee.
My dignity is working.
My restless thoughts swell like the sea.
My fantasies I’m stoking.

There is a rebel inside me,
a sting about to strike.
I hawk my works around the street.
I put the world to rights.

For, in my heart and in my mind,
ideas swarm right through me.
Yes, in this Hive of Liberty,
my words just flow like wine,
my words just flow like wine.



Britain must learn to decline gracefully

Politicians may be too nervous to address Britain's increasing irrelevance on the world stage, but they must

There's an eery sensation of time looping back 30 years. The lineup of news stories echoes those that framed my teenage world: one in five young people unemployed and the relentless flow of stories of individual lives strained to breaking point by contracting state support. Beneath the news agenda, one can catch the reverberations of that narrative of national decline that so gripped 1970s and early 1980s Britain.

We're not alone. Declinology is prompting a publishing boom in doom across Europe and the US. The latest is by the Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo, who made a name for herself as an outspoken iconoclast with her book Dead Aid. Now she is offering chilly comfort in How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly and the Stark Choices Ahead. Her work sits alongside books such as Losing Control by Stephen King, chief economist of HSBC, The End of Influence (Stephen S Cohen and J Bradford DeLong) and the Last Days of Europe: Epitaph from an Old Continent (Walter Laqueur). And, if you fancy something even gloomier, there's Decline and Fall: Europe's Slow Motion Suicide (Bruce S Thornton).

If all that sounds grim enough, take a look at France, where declinology has become a national art. We have Jean-Pierre Chevènement's Is France Finished? and Eric Zemmour's French Melancholy. While in Germany, declinology has assumed hysterical proportions inThilo Sarrazin's bestselling Germany Does Away With Itself and Hans-Werner Sinn's Can Germany Be Saved?

The basic decline arguments are familiar. An ageing European population and high youth unemployment with faltering economic growth in the debt-laden west set against the huge economic growth rates of China, India and Brazil – the rising rest, as Moyo calls them. Within 40 years, the west will represent only 12% of the world's population and Europe a mere 6% compared with its size on the eve of the first world war, when Europe's population was slightly bigger than China's. The French declinologist (if I can coin the term) Dominique Moisi describes this with the phrase "the white man's loneliness".

Meanwhile, as last week's summit in Washington demonstrated, economic power is shifting inexorably towards China, set to exceed US GDP within the next 10 years. China is churning out highly skilled graduates while embarking on a massive buying spree of western assets. The last decade was characterised by "made in China", the next will be "bought by China". Hope and optimism for the future is no longer a western characteristic; the Pew Research Centrefound that 87% of Chinese, 50% of Brazilians and 45% of Indians think their country is going in the right direction. Meanwhile Britain scores 31%, the US a shade lower at 30% and the French a meagre 26%.

Declinology is marked by a three-way split. First, there are the breathless potboilers whose digested read runs thus: we are all doomed, time is running out, will we survive? In these tomes decisions are invariably "stark", "tough" and "hard". Given how many of these books have been bestsellers, there is a healthy public appetite for urgent miserabilism.

Second, there are the economists and foreign policy analysts who seem to make it a point of honour to be as calm and matter of fact about decline as the bestselling authors are panicky. For many in this category the big issue is whether Europe/Britain/the west's decline is only relative or absolute as well. Will we just lose power and influence in relation to the rising rest or will we become poorer too? Will our roads be riddled with potholes as riots break out over the last vestiges of the welfare state or will we play host to crowds of Chinese and Indian tourists on their trips round heritage Britain? Or, as seems likely, a dystopian combination of the two?

Third, neither of these lively debates gets much of an airing in politics, where national decline is a no-go area. It's part of politicians' job description to evoke a convincingly hopeful future; that's a steep challenge given that a considerable body of western public opinion believes our children's lives will be harder than before, and is surely part of the explanation for the disconnect with politics. It's particularly hard for Britain, still suffering from post-imperial withdrawal, where political leadership requires claiming a prominent role on the world stage.Nick Clegg's brave foray proposing a realistic national modesty during the election proved brief: irrelevance is a concept the British have yet come to terms with.

Challenging decline became the defining political role for both Thatcher and Blair; they both used the City and the armed forces to claim that Britain punched above its weight. New details keep seeping out of the ignominious fallout of that strategy; reports last week of the US military success in Sangin, Helmand, after they took over from the British are another blow to a military reputation damaged in southern Iraq.

But the really striking characteristic of declinology is how it is used to advance other agendas. It is a way of injecting urgency, grabbing attention for another cause. And it can get very nasty. For example, many analyses of Europe's decline put the continent's Muslim minorities centre stage, cast in the role of "enemy within", outbreeding "natives", bringing down standards of education and corroding cultural traditions. Declinology in Germany and France has become toxically entangled with Islamophobia.

Moyo's sights are set in a very different direction, but one that could also prove disturbing. Bundled into some sobering analysis of how the west has incurred huge debt to invest in housing rather than wealth creation, infrastructure and education, Moyo argues that the west, unlike China, has burdened itself with unsustainable welfare systems that divert investment away from strategic, long-term interests. One could see this morph into a handy coalition rationale – "we can't afford it" – for stripped-down welfare. But even more sinister is Moyo's analysis of how swiftly and effectively the authoritarian Chinese state can take big strategic decisions in comparison with western democracies crippled by the short termism of the election cycle, and tangled in public inquiries, consultations and parliamentary scrutiny. "I love democracy but it is not a prerequisite for economic growth," she comments.

This is the dangerous territory of managing decline – haunted by temptations of racism and authoritarianism. Rather like old age, some of the toughest challenges come when one is least well equipped to deal with them. Decline and democracy have never, yet, had an easy relationship. Much of democratic politics is premised on promising the electorate their dreams.

Britain is resuming, after a generation of illusions, one of the preoccupations of postwar politics: is there a way to decline gracefully? How does a political leader reconcile a country to modesty about its place in the world, making room for the new ambitions of other countries while shaping a future prosperity? Politicians may be reluctant to discuss this kind of thing, but no one else is.


durham book launch for gordon macpherson


They try to tell us we are too old,
Too old to have a little fun.
They say 'Just be your age,
Get back into your cage
And leave the fun and dancing to the young.'
But, when they saw us on the floor,
Their doubts were gone for ever more.
They saw that we could have a ball,
We were not too old at all.
They tried to tell us we are too old,
Too old for foreign holidays.
They said we would never stand
The food in foreign lands,
The journey there would have us on our knees.
Our children saw that they were wrong
And knew that we knew all along
That age is not a prison wall
We are not too old at all.



if you think this is democracy,
this quango land
of the pampered middle classes,
this apology for socialism,
this New Labour
egocentric insult to our history,
this emptiness
of false celebrity,
this Blairite shallowness,
this shattered ignorance
of all that shines from our fought-for heritage,
this media connivance
and bone idleness,
this following of the fast buck,
this grovelling to the greed of capital,
this sickening homage to materialism,
this lack of human spirit
in our city centres,
this brutal selfishness
encouraged by a government
that denies our European roots,
that scans the wonder of the vast Atlantic
for feeble ideas to run with,
this rat race of a society
that puts self above solidarity,
these feeble careerist substitutes for activism
who have lost any real will for change,
who have become corrupted by a power-lust,
who lack any passion
other than to climb grimly up their greasy poles,
clinging on to their self-delusion,
ignoring, in their centrist way,
the true beauty of community,
handing out their gongs to the servile
and rubbishing the selfless folk
who work their little miracles every breathing day.



more from the centurion bar project - photos: peter dixon


I drink the sun,
I booze the moon,
I throw planets down my neck.
In the Centurion Bar,
a thirst rages
for the sunshine in my jar,
the songs in my roaring throat.
This beautiful day,
cascade of ale,
chorus of clouds
flooding through the roof,
I think
I am very much alive.
My blood is full
as the Tyne in heat,
as the veins of Neville Street
with my misspent hours.
This temple
of Bacchus,
this church of drunkenness,
fills my head
with poems,
my eyes
alive with comely lasses,
the gleam of full and emptied glasses.
An old man sits
when he could run after them,
when he could
drink a vat of beer in anger.
Near him,
there’s Susan
who is going places,
who is bonny as the sky today.
Friends, don’t be too sad,
this life is fleeting,
this love is deep
like the light,
the light in the Centurion.


(for Jason)

It had been a long wait,

through difficult seasons,

months of dull days

lit only by cackling Geordie girls

and the odd artistic lady

with eyes like paintings.

No sign of Jack

off the train

though I knew

he was well worth waiting for.

Then all of a sudden,

with a flourish

and melting of ice,

he came

and soaked the room

with his impeccable taste,

a bitter wit that warmed your soul

in a state of Tennessee.

The Centurian

can be a lonely place

to pass the time

with only your own

aches and pains

for primitive company.

Jack could change all that,

burst open the door

to an altered


make the barmaids dance

for you

and the rest

of the human race.

Jack, you are a good friend,

fickle though you are.

I shake your open hand

and give you my true respect.

You are comradeship

in a sunny glass.

I wish you well,

a big well,

a fount

of joyful



From forthcoming Centurion celebratory publication

Armstrong's Selected Poems coming soon - plus new Jack Common biog

"There are those who tell the terrible truth in all its loveliness. Keith Armstrong is one of them, a fine poet who refuses to turn his back on the wretched of the Earth. He is one of the best and I hope his voice will be heard more and more widely."
Adrian Mitchell





Gary Miller’s ongoing collaboration with acclaimed North East of England poet Keith Armstrong stretches back to their first meeting in 1989 at the launch event for The Whisky Priests’ debut album ‘Nee Gud Luck’ in Durham in November 1989. A lasting connection and friendship was forged. Keith presented Gary with a signed copy of his latest book of poetry at the time, and Gary reciprocated by presenting Keith with a signed vinyl copy of ‘Nee Gud Luck’.
A mutual promise was made to keep in touch with tentative plans to collaborate on a future project which would involve The Whisky Priests setting a selection of Keith’s poems to music and turning them into songs.

This germ of an idea finally saw the light of day as The Whisky Priests acclaimed 1995 album ‘Bleeding Sketches’:

“The combination of The Whisky Priests’ Gary Miller and North Eastern poet Keith Armstrong is a match manufactured for mastery.” (Rob Nichols, Paint It Red, UK).

“Classic lyrics and class music. Lend an ear singer/songwriters.” (Neil Pedder, ‘Taplas’, UK).

“An absolute must for anyone seeking a bit more than meaningless lyrics and musical nihilism.” (Charmaine O’Reilly, ‘The Edge’, UK).

£10 + £1 p&p


In 2002 Gary and Keith re-established their creative links through ‘Mad Martins’, a project initially conceived by Keith about the notorious Martin brothers of 18th Century Tynedale, Northumberland; William (the self-styled "philosophical conqueror of all nations"), Jonathan ("the notorious incendiary" of York Minster), and John (internationally renowned painter). Keith contributed a wonderful collection of poems to the project while Gary wrote an epic song cycle about the three brothers, coming up with more than a full album’s worth of material in the space of two weeks, including such gems as ‘In Dreamtime’, ‘The Dandy Horse’, ‘The Paint and The Pain’, and ‘Pandemonium’, amongst others.

‘Mad Martins’ was premiered at Northumberland Traditional Music Festival, Queens Hall Arts Centre, Hexham, in October 2002 with a 90-minute performance featuring poems and narrative read by Keith interspersed with a selection of songs performed by Gary accompanied by his twin brother Glenn on accordion and northumbrian piper Chris Ormston.

“All this material was cleverly conceived and very well appreciated by the audience. A very fine experience indeed. This was a worthy and entertaining compilation. For anyone with an interest in the Martin story, it is not to be missed. A most enjoyable event in this format with all the participants making a night to remember. Congratulations to the ‘Mad Martins’.” (Henry Swaddle, World of John Martin).

Gary’s developing illness at that time, however, prevented further development of the project and it was shelved. It is hoped, however, with the relaunch of Gary’s performing and recording career in 2010 that these songs can finally be recorded for CD and that the project can be revived.


Earlier, in 2001 Gary Miller and Keith Armstrong had toured the Netherlands as a trio with Gary’s twin brother Glenn. Since 2004 Gary and Keith have toured Germany and the Netherlands together on a regular basis, performing as a duo presenting concerts, workshops and seminars. Further trips by Gary and Keith to both these countries continue along with other European territories such as Ireland and the UK.


In 2003 Keith invited Gary to take part in an anniversary project and performance in Hexham Market Place commemorating the Hexham Riot of 1761. Gary wrote half a dozen songs for the project and performed two of them at the event on 9th March 2003. One of these songs was subsequently recorded as the title track of 'Stand Fast, Stand Steady', Gary's 2005 CD with fellow collaborator Ralf Weihrauch. The other songs, including 'It's A Lottery' (lyrics by Keith & music by Gary), 'Insurrection', 'Bloody Monday', 'Redcoat's Blues' and 'The Horrific Execution of Peter Patterson' (all lyrics & music by Gary) remain unrecorded.


In 2010 Gary Miller and Keith Armstrong collaborated on a series of songs about Thomas Spence (1750-1814) the noted pioneer of people’s rights, pamphleteer, and radical thinker of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Keith is a founder-member of The Thomas Spence Trust and successfully campaigned for a plaque on the Quayside in Newcastle, where Spence was born, unveiled on Monday June 21st 2010, Spence's 260th birthday, and celebrated through a series of events including performances by Gary of such songs (words by Keith and music by Gary) as ‘Folk Song For Thomas Spence’, ‘The Hive of Liberty’, ‘Jack “the Blaster” Bates’, as well as songs written by Spence himself such as ‘The Rights of Man For Me’.

Further collaborative projects between Gary & Keith are being planned, including a song cycle about the city of Groningen in the Netherlands.

“A candidate for the official poet of the Labour Party, Keith writes with anger, pathos and control; combine that with Gary’s vituperative delivery and depth of feeling and you are tasting a potent brew.” (Jenny Coxon, ‘Folk Buzz’, UK).

Gary Miller and Keith Armstrong continue to tour as a singer/poet duo and are still available for bookings.


This must be
the lowest hour
of the low.
I am
wet through in the dog-end gutter
of a whiplashed Manchester,
where the rain
bolts down
and the darkness
simply soaks you
to the guts of your soul.
I am
a lost boy,
from the black Pennines;
a stranger drinking
a glass of gloom
with Thatcher’s underclass.
Here, in the Spanking Roger,
Miles Platting,
they are all
making a racket,
working the rotting
You can get
touched up
for a tanner
or spanked,
and rogered
for a bob.
It’s all in a sodden carrier bag,
a greasy spoon;
all in
a backstreet cruise,
a sopping blow job,
a blob
for a raindrop:
this Manchester-wet



The hot-headed geniuses of Sandgate are leaping round town tonight

but the place is drunk and the walkways stagger

and there seems no sense in historic streets.

Where old sailors lamented and hand-carts rested

and ships grew up on the river,

the times merge in the swaying crowds

and fancy dress keelmen swig in the night.

Here's the 'hot headed geniuses'

gannin doon with the tide

to plant bites on fresh lasses' necks,

and the hours keel over

and the days rock on,

as the love-bitten 'Lass of Byker Hill'

falls in the Keelman's Arms.

So let the pipers play

this Tyneside story

all over again.

It's a Geordie nightmare,

a black and white dream

all for you,

with knobs on.


* John Wesley was rescued by fishwife Mrs Bailes from what he termed 'the hot-headed geniuses of Sandgate' when he preached from the steps of Newcastle's Guildhall

Trevor Teasdel won the Northern Voices Award for 2010


happy new year to friends, family, associates, acolytes, kindred spirits, past & present!

Gastdichter Keith Armstrong


the jingling geordie

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