THE NEWSLETTER OF TIGERFOLK
MAY 2013 EDITION
Let me take you back to the dark ages, back to a time when Tatters was an A5 hard copy magazine and where quite often Andy’s rambling editorial took on the persona of some poor unfortunate who was having to surmount almost unassailable obstacles in order to get the said publication out on time.
You might think from the way this more modern age epistle is shaping up that I am re-visiting the past as I trot out a list of misfortunes that render the various tests that Job had to undergo nothing more than minor irritations.
If you read John’s enthusiastic review of the Jez Lowe night you will see that he mentions that the beginning of April saw another round of cold and flu symptoms to hit the East Midlands and I wasn’t to escape this time; but that’s only part of it!
Having boasted to all and sundry, as I approach what would usually be retirement for any normal person, that I was enjoying rude health and I didn’t feel sixty five (however you are supposed to feel then) suddenly at the beginning of April it all began to go a bit pear shaped. Starting off with a rare bout of toothache just before we set off to the North East that was controlled by a number of over the counter tablets until after a week the pain finally subdued somewhat. Anyway the dentist assures me that it can all be taken care of with a few rounds of treatment and he has furnished me with an estimate for the course which I think might also include the cost of building a new surgery! No sooner had the teeth stopped bothering me when all the symptoms of a slight cold took over; nothing to worry about for a robust chap like myself until the damn thing went to my ears and rendered me stone deaf for around two weeks along with acute earache in both tabs. It was this that caused me to miss our April night which has left me in much frustration!
While I look forward to every guest at Tigerfolk, the appearance of Jez Lowe was just a bit special; after all we don’t have many singer/songwriters as guests at the club but Jez’s songs are bang in the tradition which made him a natural for the revival of The Radio Ballads and more recently the Pitman Poets tours. So it was going to be intriguing to see how he would be received in our arch traditional surroundings; I was pleased to hear that the answer was very well but I would have loved to have seen it first hand. After all Jez is a native of the North East and I remember first seeing him as a member of the talent laden group Hendon Banks who also had Jed Foley in their ranks and they became a very popular group around the local clubs and further afield before disbanding and Jez and Jed following other directions. Over the ensuing years I was fortunate to catch up with Jez at a few East Midlands performances and I was very pleased when Roy Harris asked me to review his “Bad Penny” L.P for Folk90 and I was quite taken aback at his progression. Having not seen him for quite a time I was able to meet up again last December when he was in partnership with Benny Graham for a cracking night at Grand Union Folk and we joked on that occasion saying that hopefully it wouldn’t be another twenty five years before we met again. Many a true word………………..
It did cross my mind that the last time I missed a night a the club through illness would be back in 1998 and that was through my lugs as well which kept me on anti-biotics over Christmas and the last one through work would be during 2002 when I stopped working shifts. Quite an uninterrupted session without missing a night….but why did it have to be this one??
Had the club night been this weekend I could have been out of action again as the teeth business re-appeared on the right hand side this time but it has gone now and running parallel to the infections etc the car has been a right pain in the arse as well!
Nobody can tell me exactly what the rattle coming from the front of the exhaust is although the words catalytic converter are often mentioned after a sharp intake of breath. No such confusion when the steering became rather odd just outside The Tiger on the Wednesday before Easter and my front tyre was flat due to the valve snapping!! Which meant a two hour wait outside our old home for the RAC man, however horrible memories of the beer that was served in that establishment prevented me from entering and keeping warm there.
Which brings me to the point as to why I can get the magazine put together this fine Sunday morning; having got up early for a trip across to Nottingham the sodding car won’t start and once again I await the RAC man.
Hopefully next month’s editorial will have more to do with the music and less to do with the editor’s personal moans; or is this how things will be throughout the third age, do you become more grumpy and intolerant? Certainly recent Saturday afternoons have seen me in such demeanour, if so then I look forward to becoming a curmudgeonly hypochondriac.
Like the Ed Pickford song says “It’s Ne Bliddy Gud Getting Aad”
SUNDAY 12th MAY 2012
THE SPIERS FAMILY
Tom Spiers has been at Tigerfolk before, back in 2008 (was it really that long ago?!) along with Arthur Watson and Pete Shepherd as part of the well-known Aberdeenshire trio. In the past year he has been singing with his wife, Maggie and Emma, their daughter; and a very fine sound it is, too. Those who visited a certain singing weekend in South Yorkshire this year had a chance to sample their wares and, that group including our own Bentham family, a booking for the Spiers Family was an inevitable consequence...
(Photo of Tom taken at Cullerlie, July, 2012; couldn't get a photo of Maggie and Emma wasn't there that week!)
Acknowledgements:-Ashbourne photographs by John Bentham; Jez Lowe photo via Corinne Male and Graeme Miles picture courtesy of Pete Burnham.
Shrovetide Tuesday and Easter Monday feature on most calendars as important dates, but what is so important about those two against other Easter related days?
Ball Games, that’s what; Atherstone in Warwickshire, Ashbourne in Derbyshire and Hallaton in Leicestershire.
All are in the East Midlands locality and all can be watched even though two of them are on the same day! The trick is to go to Atherstone on Shrove Tuesday and Ashbourne on Ash Wednesday and the extra day of holiday you had to take is compensated for by going to Hallaton on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, but more of Hallaton next month. I will add at this juncture, that we have not actually achieved this yet, but there is always next year.
There are similarities and there are differences between all annual ball games, as you would expect. But this year, one of the biggest similarities between Ashbourne and Hallaton was the weather. If anything it was colder in April than it was in February! But did this put us off? At times I wish it had, but as at Goathland in January, the crowds were not so big, hence better views for those who did venture forth.
Having said that, the support in Ashbourne is always tremendous and the number of participants does not seem to diminish, but as at all these events, support is at its most numerous at the beginning when the beer still has its influence on a certain element of the combatants. The start of the game saw the play leaving Shaw Croft pretty quickly and going this way and that, up and down Park Road before spilling over into the park opposite. Again, it went all over the rapidly churned up grassy-ish sward, sometimes very ponderously with an intensity that possibly belied the tactics that the teams were trying to employ to wrest the ball free and at others at an amazingly fast pace being chased by athletic bods until, eventually it, literally, pitched up against the fence of the Fire Station. Over the fence it went followed by any number of bodies with even more racing round to the front entrance and entering the fray from that direction. Without warning and this can happen in most ball games, the ball suddenly appeared and was sent flying out of the fire station complex and up the street. Front hedges, cars and people were no obstacles to its progress, but sanity (?) soon prevailed and attrition became the form of play. Eventually, play is back in the park and in the river goes the ball with at least 30 of its attendants. Lodged under the bank for nearly 20 minutes, the ball is trapped between the contestants who are reluctant, until they deem it right, to release the ball from its watery home. Then, all of a sudden, away it goes, up onto the bank and is pursued through the increasingly muddy, sludgy, boggy riverside meadows. It passes into the children’s play area and through the outdoor paddling pool. Now, if you have ever enjoyed watching penguins with their hopping along gait, up and down on undulating ground, then you would have loved this; for people were hopping up onto the apron wall round the pool, down into it, running across to the other side and then hopping up out again and then down onto the grass to continue their pursuit of the game. Well worth getting cold for. The light, by this time, was fading fast and the whole bank of the river was a quagmire but the Up’Ards and Down’Ards took no notice and continued their time honoured contest but we did and went home.
After another day and a half of similar mayhem, the Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football 2013 was a draw with both sides having goaled, Up’Ards on Tuesday and Down’Ards on Wednesday.
The majority of ball games are predictable in the way they are played but there seems to be the potential for more unpredictability at Ashbourne. The ball is large, but not over large, in comparison to Atherstone and is relatively light. If it is kicked, hacked on or batted hand over hand overhead then the game can change in an instant as the ball may well change directions a number of times in the blink of an eye. That is when those fleet footed athletic types, who just seem to be hanging around, come into their own and can quickly advance the game a considerable distance before the “scrum” and reinforcements arrive. Expect the unexpected and you will still be surprised at what happens at this unique ball game.
Why unique? Well to my knowledge, and someone might correct me, but in all the other ball games a side either wins or loses. At Ashbourne, as this year and as mentioned earlier, the result was a draw, so the two sides either go home happy, disappointed or a bit of both.
How democratic is that?
Sunday 7th April 2013
Firstly, a big thank-you to Corinne for stepping into the breach and comparing the night, if I had tried to do so, then everyone would have had to lip read. Also, many, many thanks to everyone who helped us set out the room due to the late running of an important inter-county darts match (Long Eaton lost to Arnold by the way).
Yes, colds and the like laid a number of people low and that’s a shame, for they missed a truly unforgettable performance by Jez Lowe.
Surprisingly, in his taster spot, Jez sang two unaccompanied songs;” Bare Knuckle Struggle” and “Coal Town Days”, the first as the title might suggest a song of injustice and the second a song written in double quick time for the BBC at the very start of the miner’s strike. From then on everything was, as you would expect from Jez, accompanied, primarily on guitar but also on cittern or mandolin. A couple more industrial songs “The Pitmen Poets” and “Taking on Men” were followed by a traditional song, with an added verse and sung to a tune, “King of the Pipers” synonymous with Billy Pigg, “Bonny Keel Laddie”. A near deserted community inhabited only by blind pit ponies inspired Jez to write “Gallowas” which was followed by “London Danny”, the flash lad made good, coming back home and looking to steal another man’s wife. A change of mood with the surreal “The Net My Father Left Me” led to the break and had people feeling that they were privileged to be part of the audience and also knowing that there was more to come. “Tethers End” a song of the down trodden got us under way again and this was followed by one of his more well known songs “The Bergen”, about a shipwreck off Teesmouth. The Radio Ballads featured throughout the evening and “Austerity Alphabet” is from the programme of the 1948 Olympics. We were also introduced to songs that had been commissioned for various projects, “The Ballad of Charlie Darwin” was one such as was “Morpeth Olympics”. “The Crake in the Morning” has nothing to do with the bird but a football rattle. The anti-war song, “You Won’t Make Old Bones” almost ended the evening but sense prevailed, despite the late hour, and with a nod to a sadly missed old friend, the late Sid Long, Jez finished with one of his all time greats, “Back in Durham Jail”.
This was a very intimate performance and it felt as if Jez had invited each of us, individually, to see the world through his eyes and to share his outlook on life. The nuggets of information that introduced every song were of interest, obviously relevant to the song, but they also added to the understanding of the song. We were entertained by a Master Craftsman.
Complimenting this masterly performance were; Corinne Male, Julie Palmer, Sheila Bentham, Lawrence Leith, Marc Bloc (best of luck with the new CD, Marc), Phil Hind, Phil Preen and Steve Plowright. Well done to one and all on a night that must surely rate as one of our best.
(20th October, 1935 – 29th March, 2013)
The 8th April saw a crowded Middlesbrough Crematorium reflecting on Graeme's life and showing great affection and respect for this gentle and extraordinarily creative man. On retiring to his local Theatre Club there were further tributes and songs from Martyn Wyndham-Read, Vin Garbutt, The Wilsons, Robin Dale and various members of the Ironopolis Singers. A fitting farewell.
Graeme was born in Greenwich, London, and, aged 4, moved to Teesside when his dad took up a job at the newly opened ICI. Little did anyone realise how important that would be for the song heritage of the area.
After school he worked for a sign writing company, before becoming a student at West Hartlepool Art School. He was a skilful draughtsman and artist, with brief excursions in to pottery, puppetry and dance productions! Conscripted in October '55 to the Royal West Kent's, he served in Luneburg, Germany. After demob he worked briefly for his previous employer as well as doing some freelance illustration work. He then became a museum assistant illustrating and recording their collections.
'Sea Coal' was written as a poem when he was 14 and turned in to a song some time later. His interest in 'folk style' songs was kindled in '54 by a fire at the West Hartlepool match factory. Further songs were written over the years, but it was in '61 that he determined to write a collection of songs about the local area and people. He had been shocked by the absence of such songs in Teesside compared with the wealth of material on Tyneside. He considered the task complete in '72 and by the end of that year was married to Annie and had taken on more stable employment as a commercial artist.
Graeme wanted his songs to be authentic, for which he needed a real understanding of the industries and landscape of the area. He took the extraordinary step of leaving a relatively comfortable job at the museum to work in heavy industry – an Iron Moulder's labourer in Anderson's foundry making drain pipes and heavy castings; deck-hand on River Tees barges and dredgers; shunting and plate-laying on the railway; quarry working and 'rough painter' for ICI (from which he got sacked as his painting wasn't good enough!). He also spent some time as a warden at Westerdale Youth Hostel.
Whilst working on the railway he was approached by Charles Parker and became involved in production of a 6-part radio series 'Landmarks' that traced the human condition from cradle to grave. Graeme recalled being involved in the extremes of birth and death, interviewing both pregnant mothers and the terminally ill. There was a subsequent 'Landmarks' TV series by Phillip Donnellan, which I'm searching out if anyone knows where to find it.
Throughout the 50s and 60s he was a keen member of the folk revival. He helped establish the Stockton Folk Club and sang for a year with the Teesside Fettlers. He wrote over 300 songs some of which were taken on by artists such as the Teesside Fettlers, Vin Garbutt, Richard Grainger, the Spinners, Martyn Wyndham-Read and the Wilson Family. Martyn and the Wilsons have each produced an album entirely of Graeme's songs. He wasn't particularly good at promoting his own songs and did not consider himself a singer. When he did sing, the chances are that it wouldn't be one of his. For many years Robin Dale accompanied him to folk clubs and invariably sang Graeme's songs raising their profile particularly on Teesside. They collaborated in the 70's/80's leading to a series of 3 slide shows accompanied by Graeme's words. Their collaboration continued in the production of 'Songscapes', a high quality book of Graeme's songs/sketches and Robin's photographs. A second book of Graeme's songs was published as 'Forgotten Songs Remembered'.
In November 2007 we had a special night for Graeme at the Grand Union. Attendees were asked to sing his songs and this was interspersed with his recollections about them and about himself. He was both witty and informative and really enjoyed the evening, which was thankfully recorded.
In later years he was still writing poetry and sketching. More recently he became involved with the Ironopolis Singers, who performed his songs, including the production of two shows - 'Songs of Ironopolis' and 'Purple Acres'. The last time I saw Graeme was at his EFDSS Gold Badge presentation, 30th November 2012. He normally shunned the limelight, but he seemed to enjoy this event despite not enjoying good health. His Gold Badge represented a lifetime achievement award, which he took with him to Teesside Hospice where he died, aged 77.
Graeme was an extraordinary man. He would change jobs to give authenticity to a song; he would walk for several days, sleeping in the heather, talking to gamekeepers, shepherds and farmers along the way. He suffered from fits of depression when he would avoid company and at other times would chat away revealing an amazing memory for detail and a great sense of wit. Overall he was a private and very modest individual. Many of his sketches and songs have been lost as they did not measure up to his standards. He has however left a great legacy and I suspect there's more hidden away, that might surface over the coming years.
And finally, thanks to Graeme for some fond memories, for providing Teesside with a song tradition and for inspiring other writers to follow. You've done a great job my friend. Rest peacefully.
Next Month – reviews of albums by Marc Block + Sam Stephens & Gren Morris
And finally……………………. if anyone actually got to the end of the Editorial they might be interested to know that due to just manoeuvring the car around my drive the previous day and not allowing the engine to reach it’s required temperature I had managed to flood it and therefore the reason it wouldn’t start! You learn something every day and after thirty years or so of motoring I learned that one – don’t do it again! Still it made for jocular banter in the pub later on as my lady was complaining that she had missed a shopping trip in Nottingham due to the car not starting. “Putting the leads back on in the morning then Dave?” was one of the retorts.
SEE YOU AT THE STUMBLE INN