A Second Look (Hannah’s Song)

‘I have often said I was, still am and always will be a plain country woman, and proud to be a plain country woman.’ Hannah Hauxwell of Low Birk Hatt farm, in Teesdale

With Hannah’s trusty bucket
She trudged down to the burn,
Her stick to break its icy grip,
How living alone she learned
To savour every running drop
To wash in, drink and cook,
The least she’s got – she’s none too proud
To give things a second look.

Long has been her moor-land home,
Her farm’s ancestral seat;
Her dale this one big garden,
And through winter’s slow retreat
Make do and mend they were her ways
Despite her threadbare looks,
The least she’s got – she’s none too proud
To give things a second look.

Now Hannah’s trusty bucket
Hung up it had no worth
For age had loosened all her grip
And ice hardened rebirth;
Though she to village ways was bound,
With keepsakes, all she took
Reminds her that she’s none too proud
To give things a second look.

G. F. Phillips

The Watermen

The Craig family worked as watermen along the quayside in Newcastle. They carried out many a rescue from the Tyne at a time when there was about an average of one drowning per week in the mid to late 19th century.

James Craig he lived in Ouse Street, a Quayside waterman,
Who at the age of fourteen he went from lad to man;
He heard shouts from the river; a man was in distress,
He was saved, he was saved gannin’ under
Afore the waters got him forst.

An’ James his reputation was sealed reit from the start,
The tark that he was dead brave, a true waterman at heart,
For he lived his life in danger – divvn’t aal the watermen –
How he saved, how he saved some twenty folk,
They were one an’ the same t’ him.

His son who was his namesake he didn’t have to ask,
He would be a waterman an’ got doon to the task;
He learned the swell an’ currents; he was the savin’ grace;
Who was there, who was there to be rescued,
An’ nowt bad was said t’ their face.

Then George put in a rescue, a brotherly resolve
An’ got a floatin’ polisman in a slippery tight hold;
So up he comes, he’s collared; they were cold an’ tired an’ wet.
So shackled, so shackled to his body, oh –
Much better than a noose round his neck.

Now last of aal was Joseph he wouldn’t be ootdone,
He never bragged aboot it or said me, A’m yor best son;
He never wanted glory an’ he never wanted fame;
To be strong to be strong to haul them up
If he must he’d de it agin.

G. F. Phillips


Inspiration Behind ‘The North it Starts Reet Heor’

The song lyrics were all conceived at different times and have their own in-built sequences before being collected under the broader and over-arching title: The North its starts reet heor.

Bait Time, Saturday Night and East Wind (scores 4, 5 and 6) were a little sequence on their own relating to three paintings by the group of Pitmen Painters of Ashington, the paintings now form part of the group’s permanent collection and housed at Woodhorn Colliery, Northumberland. The first two songs were featured in a WEA Centenary video and put on You Tube. The composer was Paul Beck, a jazz musician and one-time Adult Education tutor. The final song East Wind was originally set as a theatre sketch and is now part of a multi-media piece called Five Operas with music by Michael Szpakowski, a multi-media composer from Essex.

A Second Look (Hannah’s Song), Hoppings Song, The Watermen, Kriegspiele (War Games) and The Spur in the Dish are all incidental pieces but with northern connections. These are scores 2, 3, 7, 8 and 11 respectively. Hannah’s Song lyric is the only piece that is realised as a poem. My historical sources give the exact details behind these lyrics. As for my inspiration, it was a way of recording the personal achievement as regards Hannah’s Song and The Watermen along with the world of childhood for the other two lyrics. The Spur in the Dish is entirely different being sung from a lone female perspective, and a way of giving things a bit of a gender balance. I have tried to give the seriousness of the prospect of hunger and an empty larder a lighter touch where I could.

Scores 9 and 10 have come from earlier attempts at writing about the railway pioneers in the north, in particular, George Stephenson. Pitman’s Ditty and The Tale of Betty Stephenson are two of seven songs about the railwayman’s life in a sequence called Coupling/Uncoupling. In fact, there are several additional songs because they were intended to be part of either a play or a community opera.

It was after writing the title song: The North it starts Reet Heor that I began to put all these songs under the bigger picture of an all-embracing northern connection. The idea came to me because everyone has their own take on where the north actually beings so I decided to write it in a hopefully humorous, at least, light-hearted manner from a few disparate corners of the north. It is rather ironic really, seeing I was born in the south of England, but after twenty five years plus an adopted Geordie – surely.

G. F. Phillips
November 2012