Keith Pattison: Songs From The Shipyards: Photographs From The Tyne And The Tees 1971-2012

“With all the will in the world, Diving for dear life. When we could be diving for pearls” (Shipbuilding. Robert Wyatt/Elvis Costello)

Do you remember when we used to build ships? Do you remember when we had mines? Do you remember when we actually used to mean something? Keith Pattison certainly does. Do you remember his book about the miners strike; “No Redemption”. It was our book of the year in 2010. It captured a moment in the history of the North and a history of the working class. His new book does the same. It is a collection of his photos of the shipyards of Teesside in the 1970s, Tyneside in the 1980s and those communities now in 2012. Keith has an eye for the gritty realism of life. Men and women who have had it hard. Communities that have had to battle to survive. His photography is black and white, like the communities he portrays.

In 2011, the North East’s shipbuilding heritage was celebrated in a film commissioned by Tyneside Cinema, Songs From The Shipyards, a century of archive film edited by filmmaker Richard Fenwick and presented live with a new musical score by The Unthanks. You know the ones? They sing in Geordie accents, dance as if they’re trying to smash through the stage and have wormed their way into our affections like that big beast from Lambton. With the film and sounds was a collection of Keith’s photos. They proved so popular he has put them together in a book. If you recall Keith has a history of working with bands. The superb Frankie & the Heartstrings have used his photos for all their album and single’s sleeves.

The book begins on the River Tees in 1971 and specifically the village of Haverton Hill. The pictures are a mixture of the magnificent ships that were built and kids in their knickers, doing PE at the local primary. The local pub, The Wellington, and the houses that even then were starting to be demolished. The people were moving from the pollution of the heavy industry that had built the communities that lived on or near the Tees. It captures a time and a place that is part of our history and also a time we really don’t want to go back to. The images are stark and reveal a hardship that most of us have forgotten or never knew.

Fast forward 9 years to the River Tyne in 1980. The building of such iconic ships as the HMS Ark Royal. Hence my reference to “Shipbuilding”. A song written by Elvis Costello to pour scorn on the war in the Falklands but which also ponders the question that will the war rejuvinate the ship building industry? The line “and a bicycle, on the boys birthday” a direct reference to Norman Tebbit’s “on your bike” advice to the unemployed. The Icicle Works called one of their albums “The small price of a bicycle” for the same reason. Has any other quote from a politician produced such artistic works? But I digress. Back to the photos. This chapter began with the building of ships but finishes with the end in 1987. Like Pattison’s portrayal of the miners strike he now gives us images of the end of shipbuilding on the Tyne.

Fast forward to 2012 and how the communities have survived since the demise of the shipbuilding industry. High streets closing down, pound shops, betting shops, mobility scooters, youths on the town moor, Hebburn, South Shields, Wallsend, Jarrow, pawn shops, stolen mobiles, Benwell and Byker.

Another great piece of history. If you remember these times and places it is for you. If you don’t then find out. It is the history of us. Not the usual Kings and Queens or celebrities but ordinary working people who built the communities that we now live in. A fantastic insight into what made us, us.

The book is available from Keith’s own site (see link below) but we have 3 copies to give away to you our wonderful readers. So, a question: The foreward to Keith’s last book was written by David Peace, you know him who wrote the Damned Utd. Well he supports a football team and it isn’t Leeds United. So, who is it? Answers on a tweet, facebook post, e-mail or if you still know how they work, a postcard!!! first 3 get the prizes.

A big thank-you to Keith Pattison for the copies of his new book.






By peter on November 3, 2012

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