14 songs that sum up life in the North East

Built on industry, it’s no secret the people of the North East love to have a good time.

From the sporting field to the thriving nightlife, partying is what we do.

And we’ve helped shape some of the biggest stars of their day from the Animals to the Unthanks, from Sting to Sam Fender -we’ve produced some first-rate songwriters.

And more than that – some world-class talent has penned tracks while passing through our region.

But how many of those acts have truly captured what it is to be a Geordie, or even a Mackem?

Here we’ve picked a few tracks that sum up what it is to be from the North East.

If we’ve missed any out please don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below!

Maximo Park – By the Monument

A paean to lost teenage love, By the Monument holds a sentiment most of us can relate to.

The Monument is arguably the city’s meeting point. All great stories of a night out can start, or end here.

Chances are, if you’ve had a date – you’ve met there. Or, if you’ve been binned off then it may well have happened there too. If only the statue could talk…

When Paul Smith sings ‘Standing by the Monument waiting for the rain…’ it’s the sound of 1,000 Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.

Lindisfarne – Fog on the Tyne/Run for Home

The Tyne – that great symbol of the city – an artery from which life springs.

If a stereotype could be put to song, this could well be it.

While Gazza’s version may well have raised a smile, albeit briefly, it’s best avoided but the original is a folk classic.

From ‘sickly sausage rolls’ to ‘a pint or two together’, it catalogues a night in the city. And the frustrations of the day.

However, they deserve a second mention.

As emblematic as Fog on the Tyne is, Run for Home has been the song that resonated most on Tyneside.

For a city with such a strong sense of pride and identity, Newcastle is, for the most part, lacking in its anthems. Yet anyone who has ever witnessed Lindisfarne’s magnificent Christmas shows will now the true power of a city’s sons celebrating the homecoming – usually surrounded by your nearest and dearest.

Kenickie – Come Out2Nite

Lauren Laverne might be better known as a broadcaster nowadays, but to those of us of a certain age – or with a taste in music beyond our years – she’ll always be the frontwoman of Kenickie.

Come Out 2 Nite perfectly encapsulates a night on the lash with the lasses in Sunderland.

‘We dress cheap, we dress tacky. We dance for thrills. Our right is getting nasty.’

From drinking the house dry to throwing up – all set to no more than five chords. It’s a tale of a teenage night out, performed by teenagers at a time when Britain felt like the coolest place to be. Even if you’re not of *that vintage* you can almost taste the WKD and warm cider.

Dire Straits – Tunnel of Love

Dire Straits are a band to which history has perhaps been unkind.

Former Chronicle copyboy Mark Knopfler has long captured the sights of the North East.

But it’s on this – one of their biggest tracks – that he manages to throw out a sense of nostalgia about the fading excitement life offers.

‘And girl it looks so pretty to me just like it always did, like the Spanish City to me when we were kids’.

Busker – Home Newcastle

Practically unknown outside of Newcastle, this is an ode to the city we love.

It’s winning no critical plaudits but it’s this indifference that almost takes the streets of the Toon and sets them to a jaunty pub anthem.

Gazza, Brendon Foster, Fenwick’s, the Gallowgate End.

The idea of coming home is one that sticks with Geordies. The homecoming – a great event and an excuse for celebration.

‘I might as well have been in prison,’ says our narrator of time spent in London.

Whether you agree or not, Home Newcastle is a celebratory romp across a Tyneside we know and love – and even for the biggest of music snobs it’s impossible to hear this and not to raise a smile.

Sam Fender at the O2 Academy in Newcastle
Sam Fender at the O2 Academy in Newcastle
(Image: Hannah Colley)

Sam Fender – Dead Boys

Sadly, it’s an inescapable fact that there is a high suicide rate among young men in the North East.

Almost every one of us will know someone – whether it friend, family or old acquaintance – who has gone on to take their own lives.

Sam Fender’s Dead Boys sums up what it is to be forced to say goodbye without understanding.

When he sings ‘We close our eyes/Learn our pain/Nobody ever could explain/All the dead boys in our hometown’ he captures an eternal truth.

We will never understand.

The Lake Poets – Shipyards

Made famous by Sunderland Til I Die, the Lake Poets lilting anthem to the long-gone past is haunting.

An irrepressible sense of pride and loss. Like so many across the region have known.

Prefab Sprout – Venus of the Soup Kitchen

Paddy McAloon’s swooning tale of destitution’s refrain of ‘From Langley Park to Memphis’ thrives on the Geordie diaspora.

A tale that will resonate with anyone with dreams who has worked a dead-end job with no future.

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Richard Dawson

The titan of weird folk, Richard Dawson owes much of his material to the lands of Northumbria.

From The Vile Stuff, with its meanderings of a boozy school trip to Featherstone Castle and talk of Cow Hill and NUFC wallpaper – a theme to resonate with many in Newcastle and beyond.

His songwriting stretches from the sacred to the profane with The Glass Trunk being fuelled by stories uncovered in the Tyne and Wear Archies, while Peasant is set in Northumbria in the seventh century.

He might not be offering contemporary heartbreak, of observations down the Bigg Market – but he captures the essence of a North East long gone.

The Unthanks – Tar Barrel in Dale

From Mark Knopfler’s Spanish City, to the Unthanks Allendale – the North East is an expanse as diverse as the country itself. From the deepest countryside to the sea, every area with its traditions.

Tar Barrel in Dale is a magnificent acapella tale describing the bizarre spectacle of Allendale’s flaming tar barrel New Year tradition.

It’s a throw back to the folk songs of old – captivating listeners with a sight shared by thousands.

‘Tar barrel in Dale, fire and snow. Toast the new year, bid farewell to the old…’

The stars of hit television programme Auf Wiedersehen, Pet - Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy and Kevin Whatley - reading the Chronicle, March 12, 1984
The stars of hit television programme Auf Wiedersehen, Pet – Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy and Kevin Whatley – reading the Chronicle, March 12, 1984
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Jimmy Nail – Big River

A song likely to make the hairs of any true Geordie stand on end.

A top 20 six-minute hit dedicated to the ‘coaly Tyne’ sang from the perspective of a worker in one of the many of the long-gone shipyards.

Jimmy Nail might not be the first name that comes to mind for penning a classic but the spirit he captures here was very much of a town on its heels.

But Big River is a story of a city that might appear defeated, bereft of its industry but one that knows its best years are ahead of it.

The Animals – Club Agogo/We Gotta Get Out of This Place

A band with greater links to American R&B standards the Animals were a Tyneside band with almost no links.

We Gotta Get Out of This Place is the exception. Originally written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil in New York City the group were offered the chance

However, Chas Chandler’s bass part and Eric Burdon’s delivery make the tale of escaping a gritty industrial city resonate. In youth we might feel the need to escape but Newcastle and the North always draws us home.

The band started life as the house in the legendary Club A Go Go, on Percy Street. Which gave the band this track.

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Sting – Dead Man’s Boots

He never found fame while on Tyneside and as a result Gordon Sumner’s back catalogue was seldom scattered with ballads of the north.

But that all changed with his musical The Last Ship from which this comes.

A retelling of a conversation between a father and a son.

This song is a story as old as time. A disillusioned young lad, and a father trying to encourage him to ‘put down some roots’.

This is the sound of a generation casting off what came before.

Whether your relatives were miners, fishermen or shipbuilders. There is a chance – whether you followed eventually or not – that you’ve been here.

As Sting sings ‘What was it made him think I’d be happy ending up like him?’ Is a sentiment as old as time itself – but here, in a north crippled by the death of industry – it hits a nerve.

Walk along the Quayside and where there were once shipping firms, there are tech firms, restaurants – you can’t help but wonder where the protagonist did end up. But one thing’s for sure – it wasn’t Swan Hunter.

Bob Dylan – Love Minus Zero

Fanciful as it might be there are some who believe this from Bringing It All Back Home, the first hint of what was seen as a ‘great betrayal’ when Dylan went electric, is about the Bridge Hotel.

Legend has it that after performing in Newcastle, and posing up for some fetching pictures in Pudding Chare, Dylan headed to the Newcastle Folk Club – upstairs at the Bridge Hotel.

There is a line ‘At midnight the Bridge trembles’…so who knows. He’ll never confirm it but it’s nice to think the old pub by the High Level Bridge played a part in one of the greatest albums of all time.

Chronicle Live – Sunderland