Saturday, 13 August 2016


sing of my home city
sing of a true geordie heart
sing of a river swell in me
sing of a sea of the canny
sing of the newcastle day

sing of a history of poetry
sing of the pudding chare rain
sing of the puddles and clarts
sing of the bodies of sailors
sing of the golden sea

sing of our childrens’ laughter
sing of the boats in our eyes
sing of the bridges in sunshine
sing of the fish in the tyne
sing of the lost yards and the pits

sing of the high level railway
sing of the love in my face
sing of the garths and the castle
sing of the screaming lasses
sing of the sad on the side

sing of the battles’ remains
sing of the walls round our dreams
sing of the scribblers and dribblers
sing of the scratchers of livings
sing of the quayside night

sing of the kicks and the kisses
sing of the strays and the chancers
sing of the swiggers of ale
sing of the hammer of memory
sing of the welders’ revenge

sing of a battered townscape
sing of a song underground
sing of a powerless wasteland
sing of a buried bard
sing of the bones of tom spence

sing of the cocky bastards
sing of a black and white tide
sing of the ferry boat leaving
sing of cathedral bells crying
sing of the tyneside skies

sing of my mother and father
sing of my sister’s kindness
sing of the hope in my stride
sing of a people’s passion
sing of the strength of the wind


Monday, 8 August 2016



(for Peter Common & Dan Pinnock)

But the thing I saw in your face

No power can disinherit:

No bomb that ever burst

Shatters the crystal spirit.' (George Orwell).

I stood at your door,

knocked in the English sunshine,

bowed to greet you

but could not hear

the chatter

from your typewriter

or the rain pecking

at the tin roof,

only the plummet of the leaves

brushing against my face

and the birds

falling over the fields.

Thought of you and Jack Common,

shaking hands

in open debate,

patched sleeves

damp on the bar counter,

ploughing through

tracts of history,

eyes on the horizon

looking for War

and bombs

over Datchworth's spire.

This magic morning,

clear sky in our hearts.

No September showers,

only goats bleating,

a horse trotting

down the lane

and, in the day dream,

St Mary's bells


with Eileen asleep

in the clouds.

What should I say?

We are weak.

I know you were awkward

but, like Jack, full of love.

Out of bullets,

flowers may grow;

out of trenches,


The roses

and acorns of thoughts

you planted

those years ago

in Kits Lane,

nourish us now

in these brief minutes,


from your writing hand

farming for words,

the eggs of essays,

the jam on your fingers.

You were scraping a book together,

smoking the breath

out of your collapsing lungs,

taking the world

on your creaking bent shoulders,

riding across fields

for friends,

bones aching,

fighting to exist

in the cold breeze.

Still the Simpson's Ale

was good in the Plough,

the old laughter still

flying down this Wallington lane,

with the crackling children


on an idyllic day.

Enjoy this beauty,

it will turn to pain.

Sing your folk songs,

dig your garden,

dance in your brain.

Graft and graft

until all the breath is gone.

Leave a brave mark

in the dust

round Animal Farm.

What a good thing

to be alive

where songbirds soar

and daffodils nod.

Over the slaughter

of motorways,

we are following

your large footprints

into this bright countryside

where good people

adopt another's children

and still

fall in love

with England.


Written after visiting Orwell’s cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire, where he lived with Eileen O’Shaughnessy and which was once looked after for him by fellow writer Jack Common.

'The more I read ‘Wallington Morning’ the more I like it.  Very well done, an extremely clever and well written poem!' (Peter Common, son of Jack)

'I love this! Very emotive! Draws pictures in my brain and melts my heart. Thank you.' (Denise Byrne, daughter of Peter).

Tuesday, 19 July 2016




You picked splinters
with a pin each day
from under blackened fingernails;
shreds of metal
from the shipyard grime,
minute memories of days swept by:
the dusty remnants of a life
spent in the shadow of the sea;
the tears in your shattered eyes
at the end of work.
And your hands were strong,
so sensitive and capable
of building boats
and nursing roses;
a kind and gentle man
who never hurt a soul,
the sort of quiet knackered man
who built a nation.
Dad, I watched your ashes float away
down to the ocean bed
and in each splinter
I saw your caring eyes
and gracious smile.

I think of your strong silence every day
and I am full of you,
the waves you scaled,
and all the sleeping Tyneside streets
you taught me to dance my fleeting feet along.

When I fly, you are with me.
I see your fine face
in sun-kissed clouds
and in the gold ring on my finger,
and in the heaving crowd on Saturday,
and in the lung of Grainger Market,
and in the ancient breath
of our own Newcastle.


‘This is one of the poems I'll never forget. I see the struggling of my own dad in your words.
Thanks for your fine poem.’ (Klaas Drenth)

‘Beautiful poem. Loving, moving memories. Most excellent Keith.’ (Strider Marcus Jones)

‘Love the poem Keith. That’s my dad.’ (John McMahon)

Annie Sheridan ‘Beautifully visual Keith, nice to share your memories.’ x

Imelda Walsh ‘Lovely poem, loving memories too.’

Kenny Jobson ‘So, so good, Keith - I'll share this, if you don't mind.’


Thursday, 14 July 2016



(for Helmut Bügl)

On this evening flight,
necks stuck out,
we dart in formation
to a Stuttgart dream.
Complete strangers,
we share a common French wine
to celebrate clouds.
With your rough words,
you ask me what I do.
“Write poetry”, I say,
and sign away a verse or two for you,
hovering in mid-air, between snow and sun.
“And you?” “I breed pigs I do”,
flying home from a swine seminar in Montreal.
To prove it, you sign me a photo of six of your litter,
the Swabian breed of Helmut Bugl.
It’s a flying cultural exchange,
a rhyme for a slice of time.
The stars are sizzling in the thrilling sky
and, tonight, pigs might fly.
Tonight, pigs might fly.

Keith Armstrong

Saturday, 2 July 2016


The dejected men,
the lone voices,
slip away
in this seaside rain.
Their words shudder to a standstill
in dismal corners.
Frightened to shout,
they cower
behind quivering faces.
No one listens
to their memories crying.
There seems no point
in this democratic deficit.
For years, they just shuffle along,
in their financial innocence.
They do have names
that no lovers pronounce.
They flit between stools,
miss out on gales of laughter.
Who cares for them?
Nobody in Whitley Bay
or canny Shields,
that’s for sure.
These wayside fellows
might as well be in a saddos’ heaven
for all it matters
in the grey world’s backwaters.
Life has bruised them,
dashed them.
Bones flake into the night.
I feel like handing them all loud hailers
to release 
their oppressed passion,
to move them
to scream
red murder at their leaders -
those they never voted for;
those who think they’re something,
some thing special,
For, in the end,
I am on the side of these stooped lamenters,
the lonely old boys with a grievance
about caring
and the uncaring;
about power,
and how switched off
this government is
from the isolated,
from the agitated,
from the trembling,
the disenfranchised
drinkers of sadness.


Kenny Jobson absolutely excellent

Davide Trame This is a great, powerful poem.

Libby Wattis Brilliant poem x

Gracie Gray Very evocative Keith. x

Sue Hubbard Very strong

David Henry Fantastic! A powerful and very moving poem

Strider Marcus Jones A great poem full of so many truths.

Thursday, 9 June 2016






93 Woodburn Square, Whitley Lodge, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE26 3JD 

Tel. 0191 2529531                                                                            

It’s good to welcome the establishment of The Thomas Spence Trust, founded by a group of Tyneside activists intent on celebrating and promoting the life and work of that noted pioneer of people’s rights, pamphleteer and poet Thomas Spence (1750-1814), who was born on Newcastle’s Quayside in those turbulent times.
Spence served in his father’s netmaking trade from the age of ten but went on later to be a teacher at Haydon Bridge Free Grammar School and at St. Ann’s Church in Byker under the City Corporation. In 1775, he read his famous lecture on the right to property in land to the Newcastle Philosophical Society, who voted his expulsion at their next meeting.
He claimed to have invented the phrase ‘The Rights of Man’ and chalked it in the caves at Marsden Rocks in South Shields in honour of the working class hero ‘Blaster Jack’ Bates,  who lived there.
He even came to blows with famed Tyneside wood engraver Thomas Bewick (to whom a memorial has been recently established on the streets of Newcastle) over a political issue, and was thrashed with cudgels for his trouble.
From 1792, having moved to London, he took part in radical agitations, particularly against the war with France. He was arrested several times for selling his own and other seditious books and was imprisoned for six months without trial in 1794, and sentenced to three years for his Restorer of Society to its Natural State in 1801.
Whilst politicians such as Edmund Burke saw the mass of people as the ‘Swinish Multitude’, Spence saw creative potential in everybody and broadcast his ideas in the periodical Pigs’ Meat.
He had a stall in London’s Chancery Lane, where he sold books and saloup, and later set up a small shop called The Hive of Liberty in Holborn.
He died in poverty ‘leaving nothing to his friends but an injunction to promote his Plan and the remembrance of his inflexible integrity’.
The Thomas Spence Trust organised a mini-festival to celebrate Spence in 2000 when it published a booklet on his life and work, together with related events, with the aid of Awards for All.
Trust founder member, poet Keith Armstrong has written a play for Bruvvers Theatre Company on the socialist pioneer which has been performed at St. Ann’s Church and other venues in the city.

Now the Trust has successfully campaigned for a plaque on the Quayside in Newcastle, where Spence was born. The plaque was unveiled on Monday June 21st 2010, Spence's 260th birthday, with a number of talks, displays and events coinciding with it.

A book 'Thomas Spence: The Poor Man's Revolutionary', edited by Alastair Bonnett and Keith Armstrong, was published by Breviary Stuff Publications, with launch events, in 2014, the 200th anniversary of Spence's death.

Further information from: The Thomas Spence Trust, 93 Woodburn Square, Whitley Lodge, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE26 3JD. Tel. 0191 2529531.


On behalf of The Thomas Spence Trust and Newcastle City Council, I’m delighted to welcome you here today to unveil a plaque in honour of that great free spirit, utopian writer, land reformer and courageous pioneering campaigner for the rights of men and women, Thomas Spence. Myself and other members of our Trust, especially Peter Dixon and Tony Whittle, with the support of people like Professors Joan Beal, Alastair Bonnett and Malcolm Chase and activists like Michael Mould, Alan Myers and Councillor Nigel Todd, have campaigned for well over 10 years for some kind of memorial to Tom Spence and it is with great pride that we assemble here with you today.
We know that Spence was born on the Quayside on June 21st 1750, 260 years ago to this the longest day and Summer Solstice. We know that his father Jeremiah made fishing nets and sold hardware from a booth on Sandhill and his mother Margaret kept a stocking stall, also on Sandhill, but it has not been possible, all these years on, to pinpoint the exact location of Thomas Spence’s birthplace, which is why this plaque has been installed here at Broad Garth, the site of his school room and debating society and where he actually came to blows with Thomas Bewick because of a dispute over the contentious matter of property. Bewick gave Spence a beating with cudgels on that occasion but, surprisingly enough, they remained lifelong friends. As Bewick said of Spence: ‘He was one of the warmest Philanthropists in the world and the happiness of Mankind seemed, with him, to absorb every other consideration.’
In these days of bland career politicians, Spence stands out as an example of a free spirit, prepared to go to prison for his principles - the principles of grass roots freedom, community and democracy, for the human rights of people all over the world.
Spence mobilised politically in taverns in Newcastle and later in London. That is why this afternoon, after this short ceremony, you are all invited to join us across the road in the Red House to raise a glass for Tom and to hear informal talks, poems and songs in his honour. You can hear further talks on Spence tonight at the Lit & Phil, courtesy of the Workers’ Educational Association, and next Monday at Newcastle Library, along with a display of his works, and, if you like, you can join some of us at Marsden Grotto, South Shields, tomorrow lunchtime, where Thomas first chalked the phrase ‘The Rights of Man’ on a cave wall, to raise another glass for this man who in his own words ‘dared to be free.’
This plaque puts Thomas Spence on the map for all of those pilgrims who hold human rights and political freedoms dear. It does not trap his free spirit rather it gives his life and work fresh wings.
Thanks to you all for coming this afternon on this proud day for The Thomas Spence Trust, Newcastle City Council and the citizens of this great city of ours.

Thursday, 26 May 2016


The police are appealing for information on people who are seen to be acting oddly
(You know the type)
People who:

make love in business hours,
sing in the Bank,
dance to work,
stand naked in the dole queue.
touch the person in the next seat,
sit in the wrong corners,
stand on seats,
stand in the stands,
steal so they don't starve,
shout angrily at the rich,
break down and twitch in public,
burn money,
kiss coloureds,
fight racists,
swim in the Tyne,
drown in the Tyne,
get drunk at the wrong time,
sleep when they should be awake,
undress when they should be dressing,
eat when they should be drinking,
drink when they should be eating,
wear no underclothes under their uniform,
refuse to wear a uniform,
call a weed a flower,
listen to bird song,
drive to drink,
grow hair and grow young,
try to fly,
laugh too much &
make beautiful and useless things
(That type of person)

Keith Armstrong

Wednesday, 18 May 2016


The sun on Danby Gardens
smells of roast beef,
tastes of my youth.
The flying cinders of a steam train
spark in my dreams.
Across the old field,
a miner breaks his back
and lovers roll in the ditches,
off beaten tracks.
Off Bigges Main,
my grandad taps his stick,
reaches for the braille of long-dead strikes.
The nights
fair draw in
and I recall Joyce Esthella Antoinette Giles
and her legs that reached for miles,
tripping over the stiles 
in red high heels.
It was her and blonde Annie Walker
who took me in the stacks
and taught me how to read
the signs
that led inside their thighs.
Those Ravenswood girls
would dance into your life
and dance though all the snow drops
of those freezing winters,
in the playground of young scars.
And I remember freckled Pete
who taught me Jazz,
who pointed me to Charlie Parker
and the edgy bitterness of Brown Ale.
Mrs Todd next door
was forever sweeping
leaves along the garden path
her fallen husband loved to tread.
Such days:
the smoke of A4 Pacifics in the aftermath of war,
the trail of local history on the birthmarked street.
And I have loved you all my life
and will no doubt die in Danby Gardens
where all my poems were born,
just after midnight.


Monday, 2 May 2016



Follow the Sun is a new project for this year's Heritage Open Days (September 8th to 11th 2016) to mark the bicentenary of George Stephenson's sundial at Dial Cottage, Killingworth.
Northern Voices Community Projects, with the support of North Tyneside Council, is encouraging local writers, artists, musicians and schoolchildren to come up with poems, songs, stories and artwork to celebrate the sundial. A booklet of the written material and artwork, together with an historical background, will be launched on September 9th in Killingworth with readings of poems and stories and performances of the songs.
Please send your poems, stories, songs and artwork on this theme to NVCP:

Saturday, 23 April 2016

FRIENDS OF THE GRAVES (for the Birtley Belgians)


‘Never forget that you are a Birtley Belgian.’

(Ida ‘Anderland’ Dergent)

This is the story of the Birtley Belgians,

the shellers from hell,

the wandering men 

and the women they wed.

You can say goodbye to your friends.

These are the remnants of Elisabethville,

the shattered relics of battered soldiers,

the shards of savagery,

the empty shells of discarded folk.

This is what’s left of the carnage,

the last of the war effort,

the smiles of the children

and the severed limbs.

This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

From Flanders and Wallonia they came

leaving beloved roots behind

to do their bit for the ritual slaughter,

to bring up well their sons and daughters

to dance and sing

under the hails of bullets.

Fishing for sunshine in the Ijzer brook,

kicking stones on the Rue de Charleroi,

the Birtley Belgians

planted their seed on Durham ground

and made do

and made explosive dreams.

What more can we tell?

‘Home is made for coming from,

for dreams of going to 

which with any luck

will never come true.’

Sweating in uniform

on assembly lines,

pulverising their brains

to keep the powers that be in power,

they were strong

and at the same time weak

and screamed and cried

like anyone.

This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

They’re gone now,

blown to dust

in the festering fields,

memories strewn over the way

to fertilise another day

with the same weary mistakes

and thrusts of love.

I can see the boys in the Villa de Bruges

slaking their frustrated fantasies

to drown the horror 

and the girls

seductive behind the huts

in between

the grind of daily production.

Let me take you

up the Boulevard Queen Mary,

along the Rue de Louvain,

knock on the door of number D2

and blood will pour

and the ground will open up,

‘mud will take you prisoner’

and devour all those years.

This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

You can hear their singing on the North Sea wind,

hear them in Chester le Street and Liege,

the brass band and orchestra

drowning out the distant pounding.

In and out of trouble,

we will always dance.

An accordion wails across the little streets,

the Three Tuns welcomes the living.

And at the crack of dawn

and in the battlefields of evening clouds

we will remember them,

in the words of the Walloon poet Camille Fabry proclaim:

‘Our thoughts fly like arrows back to the land of our birth.’

This is the story of the loss of lives

for causes we scarcely understand

but for love and grandeur too

and for the little Belgian children

and the joyous games they play.

This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.


The Birtley Belgians emigrated from Belgium to Birtley, County Durham during World War 1 to build an armaments factory and lived in their own specially created village.  
Named after the Queen of the Belgians, Elisabethville itself became Little Belgium - a colony of 6,000 people, of boules and of boulevards.

It had its own hospital, cemetery, school, church, nunnery and Co-op; only Flemish and Walloon were spoken.

The Birtley factory was to the north of the town, British built but entirely Belgian run. By 1916 it gave work to 3,500 men, 85 per cent disabled in some way, with 2,500 family members also housed in the adjacent iron fenced village. 

The poem was commissioned by the Birtley Belgians Euro-Network in 2015 in association with Borsolino and Berline Belgian Drama Groups.

What a good job you've made of it!  Like you, I find these nooks and crannies of the 20th century totally fascinating. (John Mapplebeck, Bewick Films).