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LILLIAS KINSMAN-BLAKE, EMILY PORTMAN AND DAVE WOOD - Nowt Se Strange As Folks: Songs From The North-East Of England 

LILLIAS KINSMAN-BLAKE, EMILY PORTMAN AND DAVE WOOD - Nowt Se Strange As Folks: Songs From The North-East Of England 
Focal Music Ltd 

This fine little book was not designed as reminiscence therapy but as soon as I opened it my memory took me back 60+ years to music lessons at Rockcliffe Primary School, Whitley Bay. Most of the songs we sung there are included, as are a few more gems that I learnt later. We looked on singing as fun, as a break from the three R’s, and took part with gusto. My abiding memory is of singing the chorus to Early One Morning as a round at the beginning of every lesson.

Focal Music received a grant to deliver workshops in traditional music, song and dance in the North East of England. This book has been distilled from the experiences of the music teachers taking part in the project and provides a great resource going forward. In addition to the music and words, a short background to each song is given, explaining the social context and also how songs change over time. Bullet points give suggestions on teaching approach and ideas for further development, always with a view to increasing the involvement of the children. Suggestions for instrumentation, from body percussion through to whistles and ukuleles, are provided and the use of any other instruments to hand is encouraged. I’m really pleased that the instrumental options have moved on; we were restricted to triangles, tambourines and castanets on a stick.

In writing this, my final review for Living Tradition, it seems that I have come full circle, back to the early experiences that started my journey through traditional music and kindled my love of making music with others. Back then we were taught nothing about the history or context of the much-repeated chorus of Early One Morning - they were just words and a tune that stuck in my head - but they remained there until I rediscovered the folk music of the North East of England in my teens. It was then I learnt about the context of the songs especially the Dirty Blackleg Miner (not in this collection) when playing for Seghill Rugby Club. It’s easy to imagine that people using this book will engender in a new generation the same love that I have for traditional music, especially when they get to sing Coaly Tyne, as a round, but with more understanding of the social history that the music embodies.

This is not a large book physically but in terms of ideas and resources it’s huge. I can’t recommend it too highly.

Iain Campbell


This review appeared in Issue 145 of The Living Tradition magazine