The Blaydon Races by William Irving
The Blaydon Races by William Irving

Keep your feet still! Geordie, hinny …

My idea of heaven is a place where the Tyne meets the Delta, where folk music meets the blues.

Mark Knopfler

This week my Reflection is of some of the North-eastern folksongs I recall from my early years.

Of course, the one that most people will know of is Blaydon Races. Although, as with God save the Queen, many cannot get past the first verse and chorus.

The song relates a series of adventures and sights on a day out at a horse race meeting in Blaydon. Racing ended there during the Great war, but the meeting was a hugely popular event for many years.

Here’s the familiar first verse in the vernacular. You’ll know the tune, so why not have a shot at singing it?

Aa went to Blaydon Races, ’twas on the ninth of Joon,

Eighteen hundred an’ sixty-two, on a summer’s afternoon;

Aa tyuk the ‘bus frae Balmbra’s, an’ she was heavy laden,

Away we went ‘lang Collingwood Street, that’s on the road to Blaydon.

And here comes the chorus:

Ah me lads, ye shudda seen us gannin’,

We pass’d the folks along the road just as they wor stannin’;

Thor was lots o’ lads an’ lassies there, aal wi’ smiling faces,

Gannin’ along the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races

It’s long been the anthem for NUFC, and as a supporter, there is nothing more rousing than to hear thousands of voices singing it in unison. One of my abiding memories is that song echoing around a packed St James’ Park in March 1974. A cup-match, in which a ten-man NUFC came back from 3:1 down to beat Nottingham Forest 4:3. As the final whistle blew, the ground erupted in a spontaneous explosion of joyful emotion. Then, echoing around the terracing, came Blaydon Races. Virtually all 60,000 people singing it in full voice. It was the last time I attended a game with my father.

Some may also know of ‘Dance to thy Daddy’ or ‘When the Boat Comes In’ to give it the correct title. Indeed, those old enough may remember the TV series of that name that ran in the late 1970s. Set near Newcastle, it followed the trials and tribulations of a family between the two World Wars. My parents knew one of the lead actors, James Garbutt. James, slightly younger than my mother, lived as a boy one terraced street over from our home.

Going back to the song, the most recent rendition I’ve heard was on Rick Stein’s Cornwall series shown on TV. The song has lasted well for something written two hundred years ago.

People may not realise that rather than being some sweet song for infants, its theme is the attraction of drink. Sung by a mother (a canny woman) to a child while they wait for the child’s father’s return. As he approaches comes his wife refrain,

Yonder comes thy father

Drunk, he cannot stand.

Then the mother confesses that,

I like a drop mysel’,

When I can get it sly

and that one day

And thou, my bonny bairn,

Will lik’t as well as I

In between, we get the familiar chorus,

Dance to thy daddy, sing to thy mammy,

Dance to thy daddy, to thy mammy sing;

Thou shalt have a fishy on a little dishy,

Thou shalt have a fishy when the boat comes in.

And after each verse, the fishy in question becomes grander and grander. First Haddock, then Bloater, then Mackerel and finally

Thou shalt have a salmon when the boat comes in

Drinking obviously expands the imagination. But, not surprisingly, the lyrics required a rewrite for its everyday use for TV and the like.

A song that stands only second to Blaydon Races for popularity in the Northeast is ‘Cushy Butterfield’. It’s a parody of a famous 19th-century song in England of; ‘Pretty Polly Perkins of Paddington Green’. A piece on unrequited love.

Of course, the writer of the North-eastern version changed the prim and proper, pretty Polly, from a petite milkmaid to the more robust Cushy, a seller of whitening for doorsteps. At the time, a spotless doorstep signalled an immaculate home.

She’s a big lass an’ a bonny one,

An’ she likes her beer;

An, they call her Cushy Butterfield,

An’ aw wish she was here.

One of my favourite songs is ‘Keep your feet still Geordie hinny’, about two workmen saving money by sharing a bed. As the title suggests, one is something of a restless sleeper who disturbs the dreams of the other. Interestingly the idea of walking a thousand miles for love in this song predates that by The Proclaimers by over one hundred years..

Keep your feet still! Geordie, hinny, let’s be happy for the neet,

For aw mayn’t be se happy throo the day.

So give us that bit comfort, — keep your feet still, Geordie lad,

An’ dinner send maw bonny dreams away!

And it’s that one I’ve chosen… all together now!\

In the Renaissance period of my post-career life …