A Homage to the Geordie-Singing Peoples - By Pete Wood

I've now lived up here more than half my life, so I feel I can say a few things about your culture. As a Lancashire man I yield to nobody in terms of football - seven Red Rose clubs in the Premiership, and if Burnley can get themselves sorted, we'll have a full clutch of eight ere long. But when it comes to traditional songs, every region would concede to the North East in terms of quality and quantity. Not only great songs, but great tunes to go with them, and unique to the region. The songs are overwhelmingly from Newcastle, and we have three main sources to draw upon.

Pre Industrial Songs

Bonnie at Morn

The sheep's in the meadows
The kye's in the corn
Thou's ower lang in thy bed
Bonny at morn.

First, the pre-industrial songs, which were mainly rural, anonymous, and lyrical, like Bonnie at Morn, Dollia, Felton Lonnin, Derwentwater's Farewell, and I Drew My Ship.

They are like the "Folk Songs" collected from working people chiefly in southern England around the turn of the 20th century by Sharp, Vaughan Williams and the others. However, they are different in three respects. They use local dialect, hardly any have been found anywhere else, and the tunes seem also to be unique to the area. They could be seen as "Local Folk Songs" for now.

Folk Songs have a particular language and music, have no known composer, and are national rather than local. Sharp and Vaughan Williams never collected these, chiefly because they never came a-looking. Where such songs were collected elsewhere in the North of England, they were paltry in number and quality by comparison.

Newcastle "written songs"

Cushie Butterfield

I'm a broken-hearted keelman
An I'm o'er head in love
Wi a young lass from Gateshead
An I call her me dove
Her name's Cushie Butterfield
An she sells yella clay
An her cousin's a muckman
An they call him Tom Gray

The next group is the Newcastle "written songs", in the sense that we know the composer who was often a professional entertainer. I speak, of course, of Ned Corvan, George Ridley, JP Robson, and Joe Wilson, whose songs in the mid 1800s defined a quite unique culture not found in any other city in the UK (better not rile the Irish). The Fire on the Kee, Cushie Butterfield, The Pawnshop Bleezin', Keep Yer Feet Still are immortal, and there's a lot of others like them, and a lot of other first class songwriters.

The place where you'll find these songs is Allen's Tyneside Songs, which for Brian Watson was his "bible". Thomas Allen was critically important in promoting and publishing the "written" songs between 1862 and 1891, but his book was in fact one of a series of North East collectors and publishers who kept the songs alive: Joseph Ritson (1793), John Bell (1812), Stokoe and Reay (1892), Catcheside Warrington (1912 onward), and Frank Graham in the 60s and 70s of our revival.

If you're interested, you can read a recent more detailed article of mine where I tried explaining this richness of song by the fact that the songs were printed to an extent that did not occur elsewhere. Whilst this correlation is a fact, I finished up thinking that perhaps Tynesiders have been uniquely creative!

Catcheside Warrington

Geordie Haud the Bairn

Come, Geordie, ha'd the bairn,
Aw's sure aw'll not stop lang;
Aw'd tyek the jewel me sel,
But really aw's not strang.
Thor's floor an' coals to get,
The hoose-wark's not half deun,
Sae--haud the bairn for fairs,
Thou's often deun't for fun.

An additional reason for these songs' continuance was Catcheside Warrington's recordings of them. A remarkable piece of research by Ray Stephenson, originally for the first Roland Bibby lecture at Morpeth gathering in 1999, has recently shed a little more light on these songs in the early 20th Century.

By the time Warrington started publishing his books, he was already an established entertainer and the most prolific of Tyneside recording stars, having started making cylinder recordings as early as 1893. Although a national entertainer based in London where he recorded many standard music hall numbers such as My Old Dutch, he eventually settled back in Newcastle. Back home, he turned his attention to the vernacular songs of the area, but now he was recording on disc as well as cylinders. For example, in 1907 he recorded Geordie Haud the Bairn, Last Neet and The Neebors Doon Belaw.

A lot of later recordings were stories and comic sketches, such as The Cullercoats Fishwife and the Census Man and The Fishwife and the School Inspector, and in 1911 Warrington recorded Hawke's Man at the Battle of Waterloo, an example of quintessentially Geordie humour still performed by Louis Killen and others in folk clubs today.

The Row Upon the Stairs

Says Mistress Bell Mistress Todd,
"Ye'd better clean the stairs!
Ye've missed yor turn for manny a week,
The neybors a' did theirs!"
Says Mistress Todd to Mistress Bell,
"Aw tell ye Mistress Bell,
Ye'd better mind yor awn affairs,
An clean the stairs yor-sel."

In the same year he made the first recordings of Cushie Butterfield, and The Paanshop's Bleezin'. Another artist, J.C Scatter, recorded Howden for Jarrow, The Row Upon the Stairs, and Blaydon Races in 1909, whilst Harry Nelson made a few recordings right at the end of his career. These included Hi Canny Man Hoy a Ha'penny Out, an Elliott family favourite, and Oh Hey Ye Seen Wor Jimmie, another song still popular in Tyneside folk clubs. There was a lull in the recording of Tyneside songs between 1914 and 1927, but there came renewed interest in the 1930s, with Warrington making a brief comeback in the late 20s.

His last recordings took place in London in 1931, mostly repeats of previous songs, but also including Tommy Armstrong's Wor Nanny's a mazor. It was also in the late '20s that W.G. Whittaker published his North Countrie Songs, which had traditional North East songs, many collected by him, arranged for choirs. These became very popular in schools throughout the country, and helped establish such songs as Bobby Shaftoe and Billy Boy nationally. A Jesmond singing teacher, Ernest J Potts, recorded some of these, notably Sair Fyel'd Hinny and Dollia in 1927. Potts was a mentor to Owen Brannigan, who became famous for this style of singing through his records made after the Second World War. A "Top 20" for the first two groups of songs is shown in the table.

Cheap Street Literature

John Barleycorn

There was three men come out o' the west their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn must die,
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, throwed clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn was dead.

The third source of Newcastle songs takes the form of cheap street literature, the broadsides and chapbooks, where once again the region was much to the fore. The Robinson (University) library has in its Robert White Collection 68 broadsides from before 1800, including an early 17th century print of the ancestor of John Barleycorn "The Pleasant Ballad...", but more significantly over 500 19th century chapbooks.

Just to clarify, a broadsheet is a single piece of paper with one song on it, a broadside a single sheet commonly with two songs, and a chapbook was a small booklet with ten or more songs. They were made very cheaply and so many are not in good condition. Nevertheless, between them these booklets have no less than 1717 separate songs. On a first look at these, they consist of: Local 232, National 146, "Interesting" 518, "Not interesting" 821. The most interesting title I'd not heard before is "The coachman got with child by the postillion"! Mind you there's more "Not interesting" and I think the number of these will increase on closer examination. It's inevitable that such material will contain a lot of songs which were "fillers" or which now don't mean very much. In terms of subject, here is a breakdown of the ones I could allocate: 245 "Love", 110 Scots, 43 Irish, 90 sailors (very few soldiers), disappointingly few songs about political or historical events of the time. Trafalgar and Waterloo, Peterloo, the Reform Act get short shrift.

We owe a great deal of gratitude to Robert White for preserving thse songs, and to a little known librarian who drew up a fantastically detailed catalogue of the chapbooks and the songs in the late 1960s which is readily available, and without which I probably wouldn't have tackled the project to look in detail at the songs. The printers were the John Marshall and the Angus family from roughly 1800 to 1825, followed by Fordyce up to at least the 1860s. Walker and Ross should also be mentioned. All of these also printed broadsides in abundance, and yet nobody locally seems to have collected them. Fortunately, other people did, and it is easy to access the Madden, Firth, and Johnson collections on line, which have over 1200 songs from the Newcastle printers. So there is little excuse for not going through all of these songs and drawing up a report, where I hope to shed more light on what the people of Newcastle were actually singing in the 1900s.

Pete Wood, peter@pwood49.fsnet.co.uk

1. http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/ne_songs.htm

Fig. 1 "Top Twenty" North East songs popular in the current revival, distinguishing the older, anonymous, mostly rural songs akin to the "folk songs" collected in the south of England in the early 20th century from the composed songs of the 19th century.

"Written" songsComposer"Folk" songs
Lambton Worm, TheLeumaneA, u, hinny burd
Aw wish Pay Friday wad cumAndersonBlow the winds, hi o
Toon Improvement Bill, TheCorvanBobby shaftoe
Fire on the Kee, TheCorvanBonny at morn
Cushie ButterfieldG RidleyBuy broom buzzems
Till the Tide comes inH RobsonByker Hill
Geordy BlackHarrisonCaptain bover
The Neighbors doon belawWeamsCollier's Rant
Mally DunnWilsonDance to thi Daddy
Keep your feet stillWilsonDerwentwater's farewell
Row Upon the Stairs, TheWilsonDol-li-a
Sally WheatleyWilsonElsie marley
Landlord's Dowter, TheWilsonFelton lonnin'
Pawnshop Bleezin', TheJP RobsonHere's the tender coming
Pitman's Happy Times, TheJP RobsonI drew my ship into a harbour
Drunken Bella Roy, O!Nunn'I`he keel row
Fiery Clock Fyece, TheNunnO the bonny fisher lad
Sandgate Wife's Nurse Song, TheNunnO the oak, and the ash
Blaydon RacesRidleySair fyeld hinny
Dance to thy DaddyWatsonWater of tyne