I have a ring-bound book of Jock Purdon’s poems and songs that I am sent back to these days. Jock’s were songs that covered a great swathe of social changes on this island in the twentieth century. Songs like ‘Farewell to Cotia’ are brilliant reminders of the crushing effect of national economics on individuals and communities that depended on something like the mining industry. Then there’s songs called ‘Privatisation’ and songs that detail the the Labour party losing its way and the growth of America as the dominant superpower in the Twentieth Century with its clandestine wars and new colonial enterprises.
These songs (and poems) were, for me, not things that lived only on the page. I used to go to Birtley Folk Club twenty years ago and sat across the small room from Jock as he sang these living songs. These stirring and relevant songs. Most memorable on those evenings was the way that the entire room joined in on his songs in full harmony. Real proper harmony. Now, it helped that Jock only used about four tunes (that I heard). But, consider the effect of a full room bursting into life with harmonic splendour on the key lines (sometimes not even the refrains, but key individual, unrepeated lines). Birtley was the only folk club I ever went to that wasn’t terrible.
I was reminded of all this by seeing a poster for Jock (apparently) having read at the Morden Tower. God, I bet that was good. Anyhow, if you want to know more about Jock’s body of work, you could do worse than listen to this: