Northumberland is rich in traditional music and song. It has the unique Northumbrian pipes with its own brand of dance music, it has rapper sword dance, it has border ballads, one of the strongest broadside and chapbook collection outside the capital, and Tyneside music hall. It is known for shanties and keelmen songs and those magnificent creations of Ned Corven, Geordie Ridley, and J P Robson. It has traveled the world with Bobby Shaftoe, Cushie Butterfield, and Water of Tyne. Its very dialect sings.
Tyneside Song Books
Joseph Ritson, an eminent scholar from the north east, was the first to at least try to find what ordinary people were singing, and produced a series of garlands in the last 30 years of the eighteenth century. He was the first to print three songs which are still favourite traditional songs: Elsie Marley, The Collier’s Rant, and The Keel Row, is almost as synonymous with the region as Bobby Shaftoe. Shortly after Ritson, John Bell, a Newcastle printer, surveyor, and obsessive collector of everything old, published his seminal Rhymes of Northern Bards, published in 1812, which printed Bobby Shaftoe, Buy Broom Besoms, Dollia, and Water of Tyne for the first time. Two later 19th century song collections were as important as Bell’s. Stokoe and Reay’s Folk Songs of Northern England, published in 1892, took almost all the songs from the 1882 Northumbrian Minstrelsy, and added a significant number of other Tyneside and Northumbrian songs. The Minstrelsy had introduced us to many fine songs, such as Blow the Wind Southerly, Captain Bover, Derwentwater’s Farewell, I Drew My Ship, The Fair Flower of Northumberland, and The Oak and the Ash, but the later additions were in the main much more robust Tyneside songs of great earthiness and vitality, many of them written during the period, and in contrast to the worthiness and antiquity of most of the original Minstrelsy songs. Here we have some real gems, such as Dance to thi daddy, John Peel, Skipper’s Wedding, The Fiery Clock Face, and The Folks of Shields. At virtually the same time as Stokoe and Reay’s book, the final edition of Allen’s Tyneside Songs was published, which in terms of quantity surpassed them all, and some would say matched them in quality. The wealth of material from the streets and music halls, notably by JP Robson, Ned Corvan, Geordie Ridley and others helped to define Tyneside song culture for all time. There are hundreds of songs in Allen, and copious notes on the songwriters and quayside characters such as Blind Willie, which paint a wonderful picture of life in “the toon” at the height of the industrial revolution. Of the four collections so far discussed, it is notable that Bell and Allen have more “street songs”, which appear to be the sort of songs that ordinary people like, and as both of them were in it for the money, they are more likely to have the popular songs. Academics such as the committee that put together the Minstrelsey would have frowned on some of this material, but there was more to come. Catcheside-Warrington’s Tyneside Songs was first published in 1912 by the Newcastle music shop J.G. Windows, and was still in print only ten years ago*. It is not often mentioned in academic analyses, but it is outstanding in two respects. It was the first to include the music, and it included songs like Cushie Butterfield, The Lambton Worm, and The Blaydon Races, which have been identified with Tyneside around the world for 100 years. It was these books which many a northeast family had in the piano stool in the years between the wars, and afterwards in the late 40s and early 50s, and which played a crucial role in keeping this culture alive during the first half of the 20th century.
PS. It may be that Catcheside-Warrington will be re-issued shortly with guitar chords!