An Appreciation

Go to any folk club and you will probably hear a Graeme Miles song –his like will not come again. What a legacy to leave the world: Sea Coal, Blue Sunset, El Dorado, Where Ravens Feed, Over Yonder Banks (recorded by Archie Fisher), Westerdale, Ring of Iron, the Hedger, Shepherd on the Fell, Otago, Waiting for the Ferry, The Shores of Old Blighty, so many and all masterpieces recorded and performed around the world. That they are sung in folk clubs every night of the week is a testimony to a genius, though he would not have believed that.

Although he became a true son of Ironopolis (Middlesbrough), Clive Graeme Miles was born in Greenwich, London. At the age of four he moved with his family to Billingham-on-Tees. His first poem, written when he was 14, was Sea Coal which later became a highly acclaimed song.

The young Graeme was greatly influenced by the industrialised and unlovely (to some) Tees plain, seeing a beauty in the blast furnaces, steelworks, river and docks that others did not. But he was equally drawn to the loveliness of the nearby Cleveland hills and moors.

He studied at West Hartlepool Art School and was a contemporary of film director Ridley Scott. After hearing the traditional songs of Tyneside, he visited Middlesbrough library and inquired if there was a similar collection for Teesside only to be met with a blank stare. He then set himself a 20-year task to create one and succeeded magnificently, writing his last songs in 1974.

He actually wrote hundreds of songs about many subjects but is especially remembered for his industrial and moorland compositions.

They were a result of shrewd observation and personal experience. He worked in a local foundry and was a warden at Westerdale Youth Hostel; he was a stonebreaker in a moorland quarry and an archivist drawing the exhibits at The Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough so he could chronicle a life on Teeside, now long gone, in song, poetry and drawing.

It is a testimony to his talent that these songs are now so cemented into the traditional repertoire. He was described by singer Martyn Wyndham-Read as the King of songwriters, which he was – but he was so much more. He was also a gifted artist, storywriter, poet and raconteur with an ability to reduce people to tears of laughter. He sang and played many musical instruments. A keen member of the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s, he helped to found Stockton Folk Club which continues to this day. He worked with Peggy Seeger when Charles Parker asked him to Birmingham in 1963. Two of his songs were later used in Ewan MacColl's Landmark series produced by Phillip Donnellan. He was a socialist and a philosopher with an ability to sum up a conversation with a few well-directed words.

Two books of his songs were published: Forgotten Songs Remembered and Songscapes. His ability to put into song the beauty he saw in industrial Teesside was a seminal influence on other local songwriters such as Vin Garbutt.

Latterly he was a member of The Ironopolis Singers, formed specifically to perform his songs, and wrote two highly praised shows for the group, Songs of Ironopolis and Purple Acres.

He travelled widely with his French wife Annie, a nurse, and long-time devoted friend Alex Angel, who along with Annie helped to care for him in his final days. He died after a two-year battle with myloma.