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Brian Watson

Brian Watson, the lad from Prudhoe, died in late November, aged 84. The minute I first saw him, winning the Morpeth Gathering traditional singing competition in 1976, I thought: “This is the real McCoy, northeast singing at its most authentic,” and I’ve thought the same ever since. His mam and dad were both musical, the father regularly singing Tommy Armstrong songs, but when the folk revival arrived in the late fifties, he was busy exploring the world with his wife and brother - first in the kangaroo trade in New South Wales, followed by his delivering the first Toyota car to New Zealand.

Returning home, he took up his old trade of carpentry, and found the folk world at its height. He visited all the folk clubs in the area, including the Bridge in Newcastle, and came across Thomas Allen’s Tyneside Songs, a book which he described as “his Bible”. Although never interested in “strutting the stage”, he had a natural facility with the sort of songs he had known as a lad, and soon got up at these folk clubs, delivering the songs to great acclaim. He’d research the background to the songs with great interest and enthusiasm, and use these in his introductions.

Geordie Hunter, a fellow singer and childhood friend, who later ran a folk club with him, remembers Brian “going around the fields checking his traps before he came to school”. For Brian had a lifelong passionate interest in wildlife. He once showed me photos he’d taken of red deer in the Lakes, in a place I’d been several times without realising that they were there. “The biggest wild herd in England,” he said. Armed with this new knowledge, I surely saw them next time I was there.

In his later years, he never lost his facility with the songs, and recorded a lot of them, the best being on a very important 2001 CD called Where Ivvor Heh Thi Gone. This very important recording has no less than seven songs by Tommy Armstrong, (his father’s favourite), plus one each from Victorian Tyneside songwriters Ned Corvan, JP Robson and Joe Wilson. But he also included a song from a much more recent composer, Terry Conway, a favourite of his. The highlight, as with so many nights spent in Brian’s company, was The Kielder Hunt written by a lesser light, James Armstrong. We will never see Brian’s like again.

Peter Wood