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Land of Three Rivers anthology launch, Gateshead, 2017

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Music and poetry collaborated to produce an unforgettable night showcasing the north-east’s regional pride and identity at the Sage in Gateshead on Friday, where musicians, dancers and schoolchildren combined to help launch a new Bloodaxe anthology. 

Why unforgettable? Well, a surprise guest at the concert organised by noted Northumberland pipes  player Kathryn Tickell and her Magnetic North East organisation to launch Bloodaxe’s Land of Three Rivers anthology of poetry from the north-east was actor and singer Jimmy Nail.

He read lyrics from a song by Sting, ‘Island of Souls’, which is in the anthology, and then sang his hit song Big River, about the decline of industry on the Tyne, after being persuaded to by Kathryn Tickell. It was the first time he had sung it more than 10 years, he said. ‘Big River’ is also in the anthology, edited by Bloodaxe’s Neil Astley.  

The book would make a great stocking filler, compere and north-east actor Vicky Elliott told the audience: “Mind you, you would need a big stocking. Or you could use it as a weapon.” Jimmy Nail paid tribute to “a reference [work] for generations to come. So, well done, Bloodaxe!”

Land of Three Rivers includes poems about Roman life, mediaeval Northumbria, the region’s industrial heritage, and the present day, and encompasses traditional songs and some modern-day pop songs in its sweep. The first poems of the evening, performed by Vicky Elliott and Kathryn Tickell’s father Mike Tickell, included UA Fanthorpe’s ‘Caedmon’s Song’, about the first English poet whose name is known, from the 8th century, and ‘John North’, by the late Vin Garbutt, whose song includes the anthology’s title: “In the Land of Three Rivers / I’m longing to be / Where the Tyne, Wear and Tees / Meet the North’s rolling sea.”  

Later there was a sequence of related poems, at least in the titles - ‘The Blazing Grater’ by WN Herbert, a sceptical take on the Olympic torch being paraded through the north-east;  the Tyneside anthem ‘Blaydon Races’, written by 19th century music hall singer George Ridley; and Fred Reed’s quizzical ‘Brazen Faces’, about Newcastle United’s Toon Army:  “A bunch of hooligans ti blare / Aall wi’ brazen faces / Ti mek folks wundor whaat the future / O’ the human race is.”

Kathryn Tickell picked out Katrina Porteous’s ‘The PIgeon Men’ to read, which was accompanied by an elegaic segment of film: 


                                                           Their backs

     Are turned to the hand-stitched patchwork of crees, sheds, fences,

     The secret shacks


     And small doors cobbled from sleepers and iron sheeting

     Hauled up from underground. It was pit-work

     That made them ache to be out here in the sunshine

     Among the birds.


A group of schoolchildren sang Wilfred Gibson’s ‘Fallowfield Fell’; also performing were Star and Shadow, young exponents of the Northumbrian rapper sword dance; Baltic Crossing, five musicians from England, Finland and Denmark, who got the audience to join in the anthologised ‘The Keel Row’, about boats that transported coal along the Tyne and Wear; Sunderland singer-songwriter Martin Longstaff, who also heads, if not personifies a group rather confusingly, in the context of the evening, called The Lake Poets; and Kathryn Tickell’s own group of fizzing young musicians Superfolkus, which rounded off the concert. Martin Longstaff led the encore with another of his songs, which ended, fittingly, with the word “proud”.

Neil Astley should be proud of this comprehensive anthology, complete with copious and educational notes, even if we have come to expect such brilliant editing from Bloodaxe. It deserves a fuller review, which Write Out Loud will hopefully provide in due course.

I had come along as part of a family visit that had been arranged around this concert launch – and I wasn’t disappointed. Looking out through the Sage’s glass at the glistening big river rolling past, it was a view to match that of the Thames from the Royal Festival Hall in London ... if not surpass it.


◄ Bradford poetry group resumes meetings in pub

Negotiating Caponata: Carla Scarano D'Antonio, Dempsey & Windle ►

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Greg Freeman

Wed 22nd Nov 2017 09:23

Good to meet you too, Marilyn, and to hear your poetry in London Very pleased also that we reviewed your book here a few months ago

Marilyn Longstaff

Tue 21st Nov 2017 17:52

Good to meet you at the magma 69 launch and how interesting that we were both at this and the amazing night at the Sage
Marilyn Longstaff

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Greg Freeman

Thu 16th Nov 2017 09:49

No video as far as I know, Julian, but this clip should serve as a reminder of Jimmy Nail's great, moving song. (see link below).
An appearance by Mark Knopfler at the Sage as well would have been the icing on the cake! Two of Knopfler's songs are also in the anthology - 'Down to the Waterline' and 'Tunnel of Love', the latter with its references to the Spanish City and Cullercoats and Whitley Bay. And, naturally, 'Fog on the Tyne' by Lindisfarne's Alan Hull is in the book, too.

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Julian (Admin)

Wed 15th Nov 2017 16:33

Boy, am I jealous! it sounds to have been a fantastic night. There is nothing evokes Tyneside quite like the Keel Row. No video, I suppose?

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