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)


the centurion bar, newcastle central station










The Premiere of the complete 4-act version of Encounters in the Republic of Heaven will take place at The SAGE, Gateshead on Wednesday May 4th, 2011.

Features Dr Keith Armstrong on tape.

Also at:

May 16 (Monday) : London King's Place : The London premiere.
June 1 (Wednesday ) : Oxford : Jacqueline du Pres Concert Hall, St Hilda's College.
June 24 (Friday) : Cockermouth : Eco Centre as part of the Midsummer Festival.

May 12 (Thursday) : Limerick Digital Media and Arts Research Centre : The Irish premiere at centre launch.
September : Mexico City : at the International Electronic Art and Video Festival TRANSITIO MX_04.
November 18 (Friday) : The Hague : at the Kees van Baarenzaal, Institute of Sonology.
August 2012 : Toronto performance proposed for Deep Wireless Festival.


radical north east

from 2006! - intro to 'radical north east'



‘Can Tyrants hinder people from singing at their work, or in their families? Sing and meet and meet and sing and your chains will drop off like burnt thread.’

(Thomas Spence)

‘The older lads in the pit had a habit of ballad singing. It was seldom that they knew a ballad right through but they used to sing snatches of ballads and songs at their work and these fastened themselves in my memory.’

(Joseph Skipsey)

‘Geordieland’, we are given to understand by the City Fathers, is undergoing a cultural rebirth. The banks of the Tyne are pampered with a gushing stream of Lottery money, the new Music Centre rubs shoulders with the new Gateshead Hilton. We ‘Geordies’ aren’t so thick after all. We don’t just jog like manic lemmings to South Shields each year in ‘The Great North Run’ but we’re wired for Beethoven and Damien Hirst as well.
Gone are the grubby pits and the dorty back lanes, this a new and dynamic place rising from the squalor of the cloth-cap and the doleful whippet.
The Geordie-joint is buzzin’, we’re even thinking of joining Europe now. So who needs History when you can Party?
And then we have the self-styled ‘Geordie Intelligentsia’, the true proclaimers of ‘Geordie Genius’, who wallow in an analysis built actually on mythology and inflated regional pride.
So we have, by way of example, the genius Bunting hauled from obscurity by the romantic Pickards operating from their beloved Morden Tower Poetry HQ in a haze of Geordie dope and literati splendour. The stuff of legend! But how much of it is true and how many people know or care? Who really believes in their own bones and hearts the tale of the good St. Cuthbert?
Do they celebrate our glorious Christian heritage doon the Bigg Market of a Friday? Are the Lindisfarne Gospels Alan Hull’s best work?
Even our esteemed Novocastrian academics can’t put their finger on the derivation of the ‘Geordie’ but still we’re proud to be one aren’t we? The most likely roots of the term derive from Newcastle’s opposition to the Jacobite uprisings and the city’s loyal support for the monarch. So much for a progressive culture then!
The new Music Centre will allow the classical ‘Northern Sinfonia’ to share digs with the traditional ‘Folkworks’ outfit. You see there can be no contradictions in ‘Third Way Geordieism’, the cultural boat has come in and we’re all aboard and happy to enjoy ‘the buzz’ created for us by our Glorious Municipality and its entourage of quango-speakers and cultural money-grubbers. All aboard you poets, musicians, thespians, and public art workers! There are grants to be had and we need the loot to fund our coffeehouse lifestyles, we need the tingle of ‘Success’!
In proposing a different look at things through the prism of a Radical North East anthology,
I am seeking to argue that there is a heritage of dissidence in the region and that this needs to be kept alive if there is to be any real vitality and space for argument on the banks of Tyne, Wear, and Tees. To do this, we need to uncover what is truly challenging and subversive in our culture, what is not only local but of universal significance. My own sense of this goes back to the Border Ballads and on to 17th and 18th century Newcastle, to the times of Thomas Spence and Thomas Bewick and Swarley’s Club, where poetry and song spoke for the underclass and sedition was in the air, side by side with the beautiful craftsmanship of Bewick and his school.
We have others from the grass-roots like Joseph Skipsey and Jack Common who offer a more radical insight than the romance of Cookson or the school of ‘Larn Yersel Geordie’.
We need to see our regional pride in world terms to give it a balance with the culture of others. Whilst I would expect the anthology to have a strong focus on working-class and indigenous culture, a culture which the City Fathers would prefer to skate over, we need to to look at this in the context of race and gender, nationalism and multi-culturalism. We need to see how us ‘Geordies’ can celebrate the world.
So the vision is of a refreshed grass-roots culture built on the positive bricks of the past with a sense of a regional universe rejecting cultural imperialism and asserting cultural democracy.
Dialect is important but not hand in hand with feudalism. Folk-singers can be as inspired by the Chilean Victor Jara as much as by Derwentside’s Tommy Armstrong.
I support the Campaign for a North East Assembly but as a stepping to empowerment at a local level not as an extra arm of the Labour Party, which to my mind has become culturally sterile and opportunist in using culture to paper over the gaps in its own political ineptitude.
Not long ago the City Fathers were scarcely bothered about the Arts now they’re a gravy train for inward investment. We need to challenge this use of the Arts to promote Business and the relationship between the two. We need to return the Lottery money to the people.
We are suggesting that the way forward is through a conflict of ideas based on an historical perception of our regional identity. If a Radical North East anthology can contribute to such a debate then it will be worthwhile.
‘In Gateshead, we passed some little streets named after the poets, Chaucer and Spenser and Tennyson Streets ...... and I wondered if any poets were growing up in those streets. We could do with one from such streets; not one of our frigid sniggering rhymers, but a lad with such a flame in his heart and mouth that at last he could set the Tyne on fire.’

(J.B.Priestley, English Journey, 1934)

‘Watch me go leaping in my youth
down Dog Leap Stairs,
down fire-scapes.
The Jingling Geordie
born in a Brewery,
drinking the money
I dug out of the ground.’

(Keith Armstrong)




“All rich people are parasites”,
said the girl as she glided in,
drifting through the French window,
with a face that looked ready to kill.

She sat next to me on the chaise longue,
she had next to nothing on.
And Stockhausen’s friend played piano
and the party became a song.

Her eyes moved amongst the guests,
cutting them up with her glare.
She draped her legs across mine
and played with the strands of her hair.

“All rich people are parasites.
The future belongs to the poor.”
And she put her hand on my thigh
and she kicked her shoes on the floor.

She took me upstairs to my room,
she was drunk on red wine and champagne.
In the rich afternoon we made love,
in the evening it spat on to rain.

Her hair was wild and soaked
as we wandered through the wood.
She fell and cut her leg
and I licked it to taste the blood.

In town we sat in a candlelit pub,
with the light flickering over our lives.
Somebody tried to sell us a rose
but she told him she wasn’t in love.

“All rich people are parasites”,
I’ll forever remember those words,
and the evening we spent by the Neckar,
feeding the crumbs to the birds.

Keith Armstrong,




(dedicated to Richard St. John Harris and the roaring boys of Charlie St. George’s bar)

My heart is bursting its banks
with the songs of the Shannon.
My girl friend wells up with the beauty of daybreak,
her breasts swell with the glory of sunshine,
her eyes are glowing with wisdom.
Swim with me to the Atlantic surge,
we can watch the mighty birds take flight,
we can feel the urge of history in our bones
and ride on the aching backs of workers.
Shannon, you are our breath aglow
with the salmon of knowledge.
You are the spray in our faces,
full of bubbles of inspiration
welling up in our surging veins.
Wise one,
lift me up in your flow,
leave me in awe of your wonder.
Let me sparkle with the birth of new ideas,
reach out for the touch of a sensational moon,
dance in a festival of stars
and drown in the arms of a glorious goddess.
"There will be another song for me
for I will sing it.
There will be another dream for me,
someone will bring it.
I will drink the wine while it is warm
and never let you catch me looking at the sun
and after all the loves of my life,
after all the loves of my life,
you will still be the one.
I will take my life into my hands and I will use it,
I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it.
I will have the things that I desire
and my passion flow like rivers through the sky
and after all the loves of my life,
after all the loves of my life,
I will be thinking of you
and wondering why."

(last 2 verses are from 'Macarthur Park' as sung by RIchard Harris who was born in Limerick)

We’re Macnamara’s crows,
rooting for sticks and twigs in Limerick days.
We peck the flesh from Lord Gort’s arse,
from the hangers-on to his rich pickings.
We sweep our turbulent wings across the Shannon,
swimming in the Atlantic winds,
flailing over the airport.
We’re building our own
branches of castles,
screaming rebel rants at you below.
Us rooks
have seen the Vikings and the Stoddarts
rave and die.
We are a black brood
swarming though history,
watching you feckless humans
scrap over misery.
See how our wings beat
with the moment’s surf.
How dark our hearts grow
with suffering.


(for Barney)

The greyhounds lash along the track,
as fists bash on the windows of Limerick Gaol.
I am staggering in the darkness of White Wine Lane,
and my path lies lost in the rain.
Let the horses run wildly out of control,
like my brain on too much whiskey and gin.
Let them throw my heart off the broad Shannon Bridge,
I have to die somewhere and this night will do.

I shout my poems out to the odd few who’ll listen,
be it Wolfe Tone or O’Dwyer or Davitt or Griffin.
I am lying dead drunk in the People’s Park,
I am knocked out with girls on poor Punch’s Row.
O Limerick Days you are haunting my soul,
my songs cry out for your old Summer Street.
Make love when I pour you a glass of my verse,
with hope may it set your ancient soul free.


All the beer mats turned red in Limerick
the night that rebel Doctor Che Lynch took a wander
along Glentworth Street,
the jingling city
down his throat
on this island of his ancestors.
With a beard
as dark as the comforting Guinness,
he slaked his ruggerman’s thirst,
his well-shaken mix of Irish and Galician roots,
by the night-soaked Shannon.
Thirty months later, he was dead in Bolivia;
smashed bones,
splintered beads
of a revolutionary’s sweat
rolling down the guttter.
Now, I am sending this green poem
to your own heaven, old Che;
for your spirited lapel,
a singing sprig of shamrock
to light up the culture shock
of your long wild hair.
You chanced it in Hanratty’s ‘Gluepot’ bar,
you plunged from the leaden sky
to chat up all this local talent
in the eloquent lilt of a roaring evening.
Mighty ‘Red Bird’,
icon at the bar,
no better or worse
than the barman
who served you
a pint or two of Irish love,
to make your heart
grow even bigger;
to set you up
for your flight
from Limerick,
‘three sheets to the wind’,
rocking across the mighty expanse
of the rolling drunk Atlantic to Havana,
to a certain
martyr’s death.
And, amid the glorious beauty
of trees,
in the murderous jungle
of brutal dreams,
we soaks
will remember you
and celebrate the night
you fell in with us.

(Che Guevara visited Limerick fleetingly whilst his plane was delayed at Shannon Airport)

(in memory of Jim Kemmy 1936 -1997)
‘Old people mumbling
low in the night of change and of ageing
when they think you asleep and not listening -
and we wide awake in the dark,
as when we were children.’
(Desmond O’Grady)
'It was poignant,
when walking away from the graveyard
that very warm midday,
that the only sound which could be heard
after he was buried
was that of a member of his trade, a stonemason,
simply chipping away
at a monument.'
(Mary Jackman)

In this city, in every town, in every village,
there is this man
dusty with archives
and old snapshots;
this deep fellow
who digs out truths from scraps,
who drinks from a bowl of swirling voices
and makes sense of things,
makes sense
when all else
lies in chaos.
In his dreams,
wars are not dead.
They scream
from his books.
He will not let
the suffering go -
he owes the children that.
There is something noble
in his calling,
in his bearing.
His work is beautiful.
In this particular place,
you can call him 'Jim'.
You can see his face forever
in the autumn leaves,
the leaves of books,
and the dance of history,
a local historian
and carver of tales
so memorable
that every street must value his love:
the love of our people though the ages,
the love of learning,
the search for dignity
that underpins these lanes.
In Limerick,
Jim's imagination still blossoms
and keeps us rooted
in the drift of memory.
He teaches us lessons.
Listen to his spirit breathe
deep as the Shannon.
His voice forever flies
with the power of knowledge.
'Beautiful dreamer wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for Thee.'


(Jim Kemmy was a well known Limerick politician and local historian)

the jingling geordie

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