Keith Armstrong

Folk Song for Thomas Spence

(1750-1814)


Down by the old Quayside,

I heard a young man cry,

among the nets and ships he made his way.

As the keelboats buzzed along,

he sang a seagull’s song;

he cried out for the Rights of you and me.


Oh lads, that man was Thomas Spence,

he gave up all his life

just to be free.

Up and down the cobbled Side,

struggling on through the Broad Chare,

he shouted out his wares

for you and me.


Oh lads, you should have seen him gan,

he was a man the likes you rarely see.

With a pamphlet in his hand,

and a poem at his command,

he haunts the Quayside still

and his words sing.


His folks they both were Scots,

sold socks and fishing nets,

through the Fog on the Tyne they plied their trade.

In this theatre of life,

the crying and the strife,

they tried to be decent and be strong.


Oh lads, that man was Thomas Spence,

he gave up all his life

just to be free.

Up and down the cobbled Side,

struggling on through the Broad Chare,

he shouted out his wares

for you and me.


Oh lads, you should have seen him gan,

he was a man the likes you rarely see.

With a pamphlet in his hand,

and a poem at his command,

he haunts the Quayside still

and his words sing.


Fat Man Lodged On Dog Leap Stairs


He pounded the cobbles

of the Castle Garth,

bowling along

with his brain hanging over his neck

and his belly

looming over his huge pants.

His overeducated head

weighed a ton

and bore down

on an arse

fattened on home- made pies.

He was carrying a plan

for the working classes

but forgot his heart was too small,

dwarfed by his huge mouth

and an expensive ego.

He had a board meeting to go to,

the big fart,

and he sweated grants

as he blundered along

to the narrow alley.

He was far too broad of beam really

but he was late for everything,

including his funeral,

and thrust his plates of meat

onto the slippery steps.

History closed in on him,

the Black Gate,

the Keep,

as if to tell him

it wasn’t his,

as if to say

‘get out of my town’.

He squeezed himself onto this narrow stairway

and, like his poetry,

got stuck.

He coudn’t move

for his lack of lyricism.

The Fat Man

was firmly lodged

on Dog Leap Stairs

and the crows

began to gather

to swoop

and pick

the bloated power

from his face.


An Oubliette for Kitty


There’s a hole in this Newcastle welcome,

there’s a beggar with a broken spine.

On Gallowgate, a heart is broken

and the ships have left the Tyne.


So what becomes of this History of Pain?

What is there left to hear?

The kids pour down the Pudding Chare lane

and drown a folksong in beer.


So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,

somewhere to hide your face.

The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city

and old scars are all over the place.


There’s this dirt from a history of darkness

and they’ve decked it in neon and glitz.

There are traders in penthouse apartments

on the Quayside where sailors once pissed.


So where are Hughie and Tommy, Kitty?,

the ghosts of Geordies past?

I don’t want to drown you in pity

but I saw someone fall from the past.


So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,

somewhere to hide your face.

The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city

and old scars are all over the place.


While they bomb the bridges of Belgrade,

they hand us a cluster of Culture

and tame Councillors flock in on a long cavalcade

to tug open the next civic sculpture.


And who can teach you a heritage?

Who can learn you a poem?

We’re lost in a difficult, frightening, age

and no one can find what was home.


So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,

somewhere to hide your face.

The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city

and old scars are all over the place.


So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,

somewhere to hide your face.

The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city

and old scars are all over the place.


Keith Armstrong © 2010