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GEORGE FRAMPTON - Throw Out The Lifeline: The History And Music Of The Cullercoats Fisher Choir (1886-1966) 

GEORGE FRAMPTON - Throw Out The Lifeline: The History And Music Of The Cullercoats Fisher Choir (1886-1966) 
Southern Gadgie Ventures ISBN: 9781916268104 

Ah, Cullercoats! Allow me the indulgence of starting this review with a personal anecdote. Many moons ago, as a young wine salesman, I was talking to the manager of Victoria Wine in the Cullercoats shop. Just the two of us in the store. And then I heard a hooter from a nearby factory, and the manager smiled and said “prepare yourself”, and seemingly in seconds, the door opened, and in came a dozen high-spirited fisher lassies in their work smocks, to make a series of small individual purchases (of cigarettes in the main). And when they had left the shop and the delightful tumult had subsided as quickly as it arrived, the manager pointedly asked me to “please keep the door open”. The smell of fish was overpowering.

And in half a working lifetime selling wine the length and breadth of GB from Thurso to Truro, I never had another experience like it. So Cullercoats burned itself into my memory in a way nowhere else did. And on my two visits to the town in recent years, that incident was forefront in my memory. And so it was when I approached this review: could the book be as memorable as that experience? Surely, a hard act to follow?

But guess what? It makes a more-than-decent stab at staking a place in my memory bank, because although this is a somewhat specialist subject, the author makes every attempt to make it of interest not just to folk historians and choir lovers, but also to the general reader prepared to fork out £18 to try something different. He does this by displaying his considerable scholarship in doing the hard yards here, with an engaging, almost chatty style.

It taught me a lot. I had no idea that Whitley Bay was originally called Whitley, but added the Bay only after years of their letters wrongly going to Whitby culminating in a coffin from Edinburgh going to the wrong town! Fascinating also to learn of the disputes between the Primitive Methodist and the United Methodist churches, both fostering the choir in the early days: in one case the choir swapped churches after a minister objected to them attending in their gansies! And who’d have guessed that the parish church of Whitley Bay is known as St Paul’s Cullercoats, because back in its construction in 1864, Cullercoats was by far the bigger village?

The book contains examples of hymns and carols in the Choir’s repertoire, including musical notations, and has a good section on Other East Coast Fisher Choirs. It also contains copious photographs, handsomely reproduced. Mr Frampton can be proud of himself.

I never want any review of mine to seem a puff job, so – in an effort to add chiaroscuro - I do my darndest to find some lapse on the part of the author. The nearest I could find to one, was this, on Vin Garbutt’s recording of Streets Of Staithes: “Vin, querying in his lyrics”. Shouldn’t that be “the lyrics”, not “his”? For the lyrics were not down to Vin, but to a friend named Barry Slater. But in the next breath, our author redeems himself by telling us that tiny little Staithes had “three chapels and a church and each had its own choir”. Gosh, that’s one of many things to arrest me in an enjoyable read.

Dai Woosnam


This review appeared in Issue 144 of The Living Tradition magazine