The Old Rope String Band

Joe Scurfield

Pete and Tim would like to thank everybody for the fantastic tributes to Joe. They all make a difference.

Harry Scurfield adds: "Joe's brothers, sister and the mum are all very grateful to all those who have contributed, are contributing and will still contribute to this list of memories and good thoughts. As Pete & Tim have said, it does all help. Thanks."

Here is a selection of the messages we have received. Because we have received so many, we have set up separate pages for messages from the miriads of people who remember Joe's appearances with the Old Rope String Band, and people, here and abroad, who booked Joe and the band.


The last time we saw Joe

At Easter, Rianne exposed her paintings in our gardenhouse during an art manifestation in Lochem. During three days she received a lot of people, looking for her nice work. Joe was with her as much as possible. Together they made music in the garden. Joe, as a good cook, made nice cakes and presented this to the guests. At the end of these days, we had a meal with friends: Victor Pribylov and Natalia Pribylova from Siberia, Alexej Pribylov, their son, Anke Mateman, Maartje van Hengel, Marieke van der Meer, Martin, Mariza, Rianne, Joe and myself. Joe played together with Victor on his bajan nice folkmusic. He taught Natalia and Alexej tapdancing. It was a very very nice evening. We shared three memorable days with each other.

We still can't believe that he is gone. Our loving thoughts go to Rianne and Mariza, to his family, to Pete and Tim. We will miss Joe very much.

A great loss for us all and for Lochem.

Gerthe Lamers


I see Joe becoming more and more becoming a local as he rides his bycicle through Lochem and shops in the supermarket. The last time I saw him he didn't see me and it still feels terrible that I didn't tab him on the shoulder to say hi! Nevermind, he will always be in my memories with his ever funny hats or caps on his head and his ever kindness glowing of his face. He was a man you just had to love!

van der Vuurst


Joe and Rianne came to stay with us in County Kerry last February. Behind our house is a small mountain called Knockbrack and one day Joe, Rianne, Gill and I set off to get to the top. When we got near to the summit, cloud closed in and we couldn't quite decide where the top was, so we came down again, after tea from the flask.

Every day, during my dull moments at work I used to daydream about reaching the top with Joe and Rianne on their next visit and pushing on to a small lake that I'd seen on the map but not visited. I was saving it.

I loved him very much.

Chris Liddle


I have been telling people what a very nice, kind, considerable and thoughtful man Joe was, but what I have said seems totally inadequate. The obituary seems to capture the eloquence and elegance which Joe so completely deserves.

Eddie Upton
Director, Folk South West


My memories of Joe began when he first came to Newcastle University and joined the Newcastle Kingsmen Rapper Sword Dancers and there are so many lovely stories of his time with the team.

If you were with us when we went to Copenhagen you will remember Joe storming off in a huff for a night because he had "not come half way across the world to dress up as a bloody transvestite !!@xx" yet his escapades as the 'Betty' on that holiday are the stuff that legends are made of. He appeared at one venue pushing a flower barrow borrowed from the local street vendor and giving away roses (I still have mine pressed in a book), and nothing will ever top the sight of him appearing in front of the stage at the helm of a mechanical swan, bashing it on the head with a rapper sword before leaping from the swan/boat to the stage, mis-calculating the distance and falling back in to the water, causing a small tidal wave to wash the front row of the audience. This was only exceeded by the stage manager running in to the dressing room after the performance yelling that the "man-woman must have a shower, the water is poisonous".

Over the years our paths have met where they crossed and I cannot believe that he has left this life so tragically. There is a huge hole that a very big and lovely, lively man used to not only fill but overflow from.

Ednie Wilson


News has filtered through to Leek in Staffordshire of this tragedy and I just wanted to add to all the tributes being paid to Joe.

Not having seen Joe for probably nearly 30 years, and then only really known him as Sam's younger brother, it has been almost surreal to see how much he achieved in his all too brief lifetime.

The Scurfield family is remembered in these parts with great affection, and although I lost contact with Sam many years ago I could not let this opportunity go by to send on all of our love and condolences to the family as well as all his friends who I am sure will miss him greatly.

We are all thinking of you.

John Crimes


Joe was a superb entertainer and a multi-talented genius on stage, as well as being a bloody nice, modest guy down the pub. This is where I have had the occasional pleasure of meeting him; intoxicated, happy and always up for a chat between tunes about the ups and downs of international relationships.

I'll miss him for all of these things, and I can't imagine the sense of loss felt by those who knew him better.

I'll still be in Germany on the day of the funeral, but my thoughts will be with you, and I'll be having tunes on me tod at 7pm while you're all at the Cumberland, as a salute to Joe!

Andrew Cadie


Joe was one of the good guys.
Joe was a fantastic musician.
Joe was a brilliant comic.
Joe was an amazing performer.
Joe is a hugh loss to everybody who met him.
Joe will never be forgotten.

Love and best wishes, thinking about you all.

Liz Tulloch
Shetland


I, like many others have felt quite bereft this week after my daughter, Rowan broke the news to me, in tears, as Joe had been a very special influence in her life.

I first bumped into him literally on a CND march in Glasgow in around 1982 - I was looking for my (Sheffield) street band but the Newcastle street band were the first bunch I found and so I strolled along joining in when them alongside Joe's trombone. There was a special relationship then between folk who played music for demonstrations and the like... there still is. We met again in Newcastle at the Street Bands meeting held there a year or so later.

Next was when the Old Ropes came to Sheffield to perform and we chatted and worked out where it was we'd seen each other before - and by then I had two small children Anna (2 ) and Rowan (4). That was the first of many many times we all saw the band and laughed until we cried. The OLd Ropes, and Joe in large part helped cement in my children a love of folk music, dance, song and social justice. I always looked forward to seeing him and having a hug and a chat and a little catching up.

We invited the Old Ropes to the Eyam Children's Folk Music Festival in about 1998 and this left a big impression on the Hope Valley. Joe, Pete and Tim were great with the kids and Anna remembers them playing her winning tune composition in the competition that year.

What I want to say is that he is one of those folk who come along in your life and make you feel so proud to know them - I'll never again put on my wellies with out thinking about Joe with a smile

Cathy Burke


We knew Joe for over 20 years and like many other were always aware of his larger than life, boisterous persona. But what seems to have come back most potently over the last few days are two singular moments of kindness shown towards our eldest daughter Megan. The first was at a Charity Benefit concert when Joe disrupted proceedings to play Happy Birthday to our little four year old, playing as if she was the only person in the room. Needless to say she was delighted at being made such a fuss of. Then, around five years later, one sunny afternoon down at the farm at Middleton on Tees, Megan returned the favour by turning up with a fiddle of her own. She had only one tune in her repertoire at the time, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, but she was welcomed into the circle of jamming musicians with immediate warmth. Joe encouraged her to play and she duly squeaked into Twinkle Twinkle. All she knew was the barest bones of the tune and she was still struggling with the fingering, but within minutes Joe made her feel like she was the first violin for the National Philharmonic. He observed her for several rounds - artfully pretending to be learning from her - then began to casually embroider on her efforts. Before long Megan was joined by 3 or 4 fiddlers all weaving around the theme of Twinkle Twinkle. It was music at its best; simple, spontaneous and beautifully melodic. One of those moments when time stands still. But for us, as doting parents, it was all about marvelous consideration and encouragement to someone who knew no other tune than Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and making her feel like she was, for a few moments at least, the centre of the world.

God Bless You Joe.

Mark and Marcia Todman


Firstly may I express my condolences to the Scurfield and Morris families, my thoughts are with you all at this terribly sad time, especially since two of my sons are schoolmates of two of Keith's sons in Heaton Manor school.

I have lived in Kerry in the Republic of Ireland for the past five years or so but moved to Newcastle to teach at Tynemouth College when 23 in 1982 .... those were the days when we on the left were all reeling under the Tyson like blows of Thatcher's government .... activity was frenetic – if ultimately often unsuccessful, unless like me and I'm sure Joe and Keith we believed resistance was its own success.

Soon like many others I got to meet the folk around what was then called "red umbrella" at the heart of this grouping of musicians and performers Joe and Keith were always to be found. I mainly remember them in many many social situations as well as involved in political work, many a pint and a chat in that inimitable watering hole of the 1980's "The Globe" in Shieldfield.

Both Joe and Keith maintained a serious and professional approach to their political and cultural work .... BUT BUT BUT ..... also retained a bloody good sense of humour, a love of the absurd, and a refreshing refusal to get drawn into the absurd sectarian divisions of the left. Humour, fun, conversation, great anecdotes especially when Joe returned from his occasional sorties around Europe.

I recollect lending Keith Morris a book I brought back from the GDR in the mid 80's, Hans Eisler - Rebel in Music he returned it to me .... READ! since the conversation we had about it afterwards simply underlined the fact that I had only glanced through it ....

I was cycling this evening around the countryside around Listowel, where I live now, it had been a busy day, and the hay cutting brought on a bout of hay fever, my eyes streaming, a sort of welcome relief of the sadness I have felt since this bloody awful news came to me late last night.

Stopping to take a breather at a field, I noticed a small crop of the most beautiful bright yellow wild orchids .... beautiful, natural, and all too short lived .... they have sown seeds and will grow again. Joe and Keith by their lives and examples, sowed so many seeds, which will continue to blossom for years and years ahead in ways which we can never fully appreciate.

Salud! Comrades ... you are gone, I shall not forget you.

John Corcoran
Listowel, Co Kerry, Ireland


Joe Scurfield was one of the most loving, caring and witty people I have ever met - always up for tunes and discussion, he loved his friends and family deeply and made you feel so very very important. Many nights the Old Ropes came to stay en route to or from gigs and I am so very very saddened by his passing. Long may his tunes and laughter resonate in our hearts ....

Karen Tweed


An intolerable loss.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to have had 11 years to enjoy and learn from a man of such towering qualities - humanity, generosity, humility, integrity, humour, tolerance and talent. He was passionate about all music that came from the heart. He sought out the genuine, the roots - always looking for the 'old kekkers' to learn from ... and always learning.

He once took a fiddle over to Carriacou, a Caribbean island, and left it with them, in the hope of rekindling a dying tradition - a branch of Irish music brought over by the Irish who were made to work on the plantations. An extraordinary act, but he thought nothing of it, it was just the right thing to do. He always tried to do the right thing. I'd say he almost always succeeded.

The young lad who drove into Joe and left him to die on the street, is described on this web site as a "silly boy." It's a word Joe would have used too and it speaks volumes about him and the magical trio that is the Old Rope String Band. I cannot imagine what they are going through now. Selfishly I pray God this is not the end of the band, but it's the end of an era and that's for sure.

Rianne is one of the most beautiful women I know. I'm so glad they found each other.

Joe has been my yard stick for many years. He is in my vocabulary, my diction, my music and he'll never leave my heart.

It tears me apart to think I'll never see him again.

"Bye bye" Joe.

Gill Newlyn
County Kerry


I knew Joe when I was a student in Newcastle in late 70s. I would meet him in Sydney Grove doing incredible contorted juggling ticks in the traffic calmed sections. Or in a tiny supermarket on Stanhope street up and down the isles with his unicycle and shopping trolley, "practicing". And of course playing with Pete Toolan in the house. Always such energy and enthusiasm.

I believe the last time we met was many years ago in the Metro Centre. It was the last place I expected to see Joe! And I guess it was a surprise to meet me anyway. Our excuses were the same: we were both working for the greater good.

I met Pete Challoner this year at the Whitley Bay ice rink with his bairns and he updated me on Joe and the band. How sad I am to hear the news. And I only regret that I never got my bairns to one of his gigs. I know that if we'd met recently I would be meeting an old friend.

Guy Nicholson


When I think of Joe

When I think of Joe, I think of the first holidays Natalie and I took together: summer 1987. We joined Rianne, Joe and Mariza in Newcastle, and stayed at Joe's place for quite a while. Joe played fiddle recordings of old american fiddlers for me. We tried to imItate them. It was just great. I wish we could go back. Right now, right now! On the pictures of that time he looks younger, and already heroic and energetic. Very much awake. He travelled the world with great energy. We were so sure about him. He was always doing something. I realize: through Rianne and Mariza he really was a part of our world.

When I think of Joe, I think of the song he, Pete and Ian played about Steve Biko. It was in that same period. With a great arrangement, also with banjo (Pete). I think they must have heard it also from Peter Rowan. These words are just an expression, nothing could really explain what came over us, tonight one week ago.

When I think of Joe, I think of another song of Peter Rowan's as well:

Thirsty in the Rain.

There's an eagle and he keeps on flying
Over mountains capped with white snow
In green valleys lonesome people trying so hard
To tell each other what they think they know
With greedy hands they take each other's money
Just to buy back each others's pain
In this land of flowing milk and honey
They wander thirsty in the rain

Like that eagle now my soul is flying
Over mountains, through clear morning skies
And there don't seem to be no use in strugglin' so hard
And there don't seem to be no reason why
I must fight you for the rich man's money
I can't buy back his helpless pain
He seems so useless and somehow funny
To be thirsty in the rain

And fare thee well now, my own true lover
My face you never will see here no more
But there is one promise that is given
I'll meet you on that shining golden shore
Golden shore - that's where the eagles soar
So high above the fruitful plain
I'm the same friend that you knew when
We wondered thirsty in the rain
Thirsty in the rain.

Joost van Es


It's a few years since we last met and talked with Joe and but what we can say is that for a while we were privileged to share part of the journey with him in the 1980s and early 90's. Joe was one of the good guys in the struggle, principled, dependable, indefatigable, inspiring and funny. He was one of those rare people with such optimism and good humour that you couldn't help but join in with other comrades and do something as completely mad and superbly sane as attempting to change the world by dancing for peace and socialism. We can't travel to Newcastle on Friday but we will be knocking the tops of a few beers, donning our May Day T shirts and remembering some great days in struggles past and drawing some quiet strength from memories of Joe to have another go. La lutta continua !

Our thoughts are with Rianne, Pete, Tim, the families of Joe and Keith and the hundreds of friends around the world. Joe , you really made a difference.

Bob Thorp and Emma Dooks


I first met Joe at Shetland Folk Festival. There was an incredible camaraderie between the performers that year and I would meet Joe, Pete and Tim (with greater anticipation each night) in the festival club for tunes, craic and beer. Great music, great laughs and memories I will keep forever, especially the privilege of experiencing Joe's 'cockernee rub-a-dub sing-along around the old Joanna' in the very early hours one morning.

Joe was one of those special people you don't meet very often who immediately accept you as you are and make you feel so comfortable and relaxed in their company that you're sure you've been friends your whole life.

Sadly missed, fondly remembered.

Aaron Jones
Edinburgh


This is Dave here in Seattle, and I only caught the news by email this morning. It is not quite to be believed; I've been crying all day. What a lovely man; great humorist, fine fiddler, juggler, unicyclist, clown, and a pretty exemplary socialist to boot. There's's a bloody great hole in the world even out here on the West Coast. I felt a bit small in his company but only because he was larger than life. He always encouraged my rudimentary attempts to play the fiddle. Once when I was thinking of selling my instrument he played it for a few minutes in the kitchen and made such beautiful sounds I resolved to keep it, and perhaps practice a bit harder.

Old Ropes are among my very dearest of friends and all I can do is send my love to them and their families, and to Rianne, for all of whom the sadness must be just unimaginably huge. Joe Scurfield is one of a kind.

David Milford
Seattle, WA, USA


I only just found out today of Joe's passing, absolutely gutted. What was highlighted to me was how long it's been since I've seen anyone in Newcastle when I looked at the band's website - I always remember Joe with jet-black hair. Take heed - don't ever think you've got forever to see your old friends.

The memories I do have are of an incredibly happy, funny man whose face never bore a frown. I hope the sun shines down on Newcastle on Friday, and shines on Joe's soul for ever more - as I'm sure it will!

Sasha, Lancaster
(was Fiona McVittie)


We'll miss you Joe,

I remember the delight you took in playing your fiddle at a session in amongst us all. It's Tragic and so sad that you've been taken from us so suddenly in this way...that loss must be unbearable to your close loved ones and family and your working mates and brothers Tim and Pete. I'm singing for you matey, through the tears, We love you, We'll always keep your memory alive.

Love to all your family.

From Rory, and Aimee, Solly and Finn (McLeod)
Kirbister, Stromness, Orkney


Deepest sympathy from Shooglenifty.

...man of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy .... Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?

Joe will be sorely missed.

Garry Finlayson


I just wanted to say a very simple thank you, to a great fiddler, and a great funny man. Its one of those days when you feel like the world will never be quite the same again.
Thanks Joe- and Pete and Tim- for much hilarity- and some amazing music!

Wishing you and Joe's family all the best in the days to come.

Kate Bramley


I didn't know Joe well personally, but I still admired his passion, commitment and skill. I had occasion to hire the ORSB on occasions for NALGO, most notably during the Local Govt pay strike in 1989. I'll never forget this picture of Joe ...... dressed up as a medieval fool, perching on a unicycle, winding up the striking marchers in Middlesbrough by chanting into a microphone, which was hooked up to an amplifier, which rested on one of our (still in use) blue trolleys, which was pushed by one of Joe's mates who was dressed up as a bear ..... on roller skates. They both went up and down that line of marchers all the long way from Albert Park to Middlesbrough Town Hall in 80 degrees plus heat ........and then immediately gave a 20 minute concert to the assembled ranks! Marvellous stuff!!! The next (and sadly the last) time I saw Joe was an ORSB concert ....... in Gateshead Library, by way of contrast.

I'll fondly remember him.

Bob Marchant
Unison


Years ago, a crowd of diverse musicians, from far and wide, used to meet up every new year in a wonderful house in Tynron, up in Dumfriesshire. The craic was mighty, the ale flowed, and music went on day and night without surcease for days in a row. Joe was one of the many wanderers who used to manifest in that little transitory bubble in time and space, in which music and fellowship came to the fore, and that is where I knew him from.

He was Joe the really amazing fiddler, the man with the gentle voice and the kind eyes. The man who brought pickled herrings to the party, which I vowed I wouldn't eat, but after he gave some to me, I liked them just the same. The man who, on my photographs of those days, always stuck out his tongue as far as it would go right at the camera, rather than let me take a serious photograph!

Many a time I was there, when night turned into morning, and jigs turned into reels, but musicians generally failed to turn into their beds. They were golden days, and Joe was a part of it.

One more of us gone.

Joe was a treasure, and I'll never forget him. My heart goes out to his loved ones.

Beverley Whelan
Lancaster


I knew Keith only slightly and had not been in touch with Joe for some time but it was always good to know they were out there. Seeing the Old Rope String Band on the bill anywhere always made me smile and brought back fond memories of the comradeship on the Left in Newcastle in the 80's.

They will be sadly missed but remembered forever.

Steve Bishop


This is awful news. No picture of Fenham, Newcastle in the '80's would be complete for me without Joe Scurfield striding (or, more likely, unicycling) through it. We didn't really know each other, just played at the same benefits & shopped at the same shops, but I know I'm not alone in having felt something like a blow to the gut on hearing of his untimely and tragic death.

My heart goes out to his and Keith's families, friends and fellow musicians and my love to all the good people I met in those politically critical times. Things may not be better but the spirit of joyful resistance that Joe embodied will live on. You'll be sadly missed, Joe.

Giles Schumm
Berlin


It sometimes feels as though those with the greatest integrity and talent are picked off first, leaving the rest of us behind to contemplate the larger voids. That may well be irrational but when I think of what Joe was and how many people's lives he brightened - and the circumstances of his death - it's difficult to be rational.

They say that no-one is indispensable and that's true, in the main. Joe however, with his unique blend of humanity, musicianship, humour and generosity, is utterly irreplaceable and those closer to him than I must be in abject despair. All of us are poorer for Joe's death, but richer for ever having known him.

Neil Atkinson


Can't be in Newcastle today — my thoughts are there though.

Learning to play trad music in Newcastle and going to the Cumberland Arms session could be intimidating - so many good musos around: but Joe always recognised you, had a smile and a invitation to come, sit and play a tune or two. How humble, yet fantastically talented — Joe's touch on peoples lives will continue to spread for many years to come.

Tom Walwyn


What an appalling loss — I don't have any sensible words so I'm sending you a picture of Joe in my kitchen — it's people like Joe and moments like these which make life, and although I didn't know him well I shall miss him deeply.

Jamie Davidson
Shropshire

Joe Scurfield in Jamie Davidson's kitchen

I remember all the great gigs I have seen of the ORSB with my family and friends, I have also enjoyed many stories from my mum, dad and friends. All these memories will live on with me forever as I'm sure everyone else will. I've heard some of Joe's amazing one-liners as well as many coming from both Pete and Tim's mouths at gigs! The most vivid memory I have was quite recent at the Sage, Gateshead, it goes along the line of 'Sage *Joe held up some sage* and Onion *followed by holding up an onion*' then in the same concert the ORSB's latest CD being chopped up by a cucumber. I was literally rolling on the floor crying with laughter! Knowing Joe has been great, he's influenced my style of playing as well as given both I and many others a number of great jokes. Reading other peoples tributes to Joe really did make me laugh and smile, so many people have such fond memories of Joe and I think both those and Pete and Tim's comments sum Joe up so well.

He is one of those men who I thought would always be around, it's an awful feeling to know that I won't see him again but I, for some reason, seem to think Joe wouldn't want anyone to be down by his death and I have therefore tried my hardest not to let it get to me!

Memories of Joe and Keith will always live on with me and their music will always be being played as well, hopefully generations to come will get to experience many happy times with their music just as I have. My thoughts go to Rianne, Mariza, Pete, Tim and everybody else that knew Joe.

[name withheld by request]


Far away in time and place I may be BUT; ... it hit me hard. I had the highest regard for Joe, both for his musical talents but also from a 'guy to guy' point of view.

Even though I am now 20 years out of the picture, I cant forget Joe's irrepressible style, the accent, the beard, the fiddle and the eternal ' cumon les hava beer' still rings in my ears.

It was Joe that was the driving force behind the band that we formed to do the benefit gigs for the communities from Yorkshire to Northern Northumberland during the Miners' Strike. With his total conviction that this was 'the right thing to do', he motivated us and powered us around the north east where we raised thousand of pounds for the women's support groups. I had never seen that level of clear political commitment and compassion to other peoples needs before. He knew and understood that positive actions make a difference — that was the character of the man.

I have followed the information flow and events from here, via the net. [Many thanks to the Evening Chronicle reporters for doing their work well, Steve Jinksi and my brother Peter; who have kept me informed.]

Please pass on my most sincere regrets to Joe's family and Keith Morris's family - I only knew him a little - but what a tone!!

I'm far, but I am still saddened - I wish I had taken the time to say more nice things to him.

Liam Arthurs - Bass player Country Pickets 84-85
Victoria BC, Canada


We were heartshocked when we heard the news about Joe. We wanted to pass on our condolence regarding Joe Scurfield as we knew Joe well as he stayed with us for two years at the Shetland Folk Festival. He always was so jolly and genuine. The Old Rope Sting Band were always popular at the Shetland Folk Festival and were up this year for the 25th Anniversary and the shows were just as hilarious.

We are thinking of you all at this time and hope that the support from everyone will help at this time of sorrow.

Eleanor and Lowrie Robertson


I have known Joe for over 20 years when he and other comrades regularly gave their time to provide music and solidarity with workers in many different struggles. The number of benefit gigs during the miners strike and during the anti-privatisation disputes in NUPE must be well over a thousand. His enthusiasm and commitment to workers in struggle was tremendous. In particular I remember the performance in 1986 for the workers occupying the cook/freeze factory in the grounds of St. Nicks hospital who were facing redundancy, raising their spirits and building their confidence.

The Old Rope String Band at Saint Nicholas's Hospital

The Old Rope String Band visit NUPE members occupying St Nicholas Hospital's cook freeze department, 1986. Photo: Richard Grassick (Amber)

More recently the Old Rope String Band played a solidarity concert for a group of Russian Health Workers visiting UNISON Northern Region. The ability of Joe, Pete and Tim to use humour to transcend language difficulties and communicate internationally was wonderful to watch. What a man, what an internationalist, what a remarkable musician and performer. We will all miss his creativity and generosity. He has touched the lives of so many people.

Keith Hodgson
(UNISON)


Joe's day

The tributes and memories are very moving. Joe was a wonderful man I knew for 25 years. I wanted to say something about Joe's Day which was a very special occasion and one we will remember for ever. I simply want to pay tribute to Rianne, who was an inspiration, and to Peter and Tim who were magnificent in their organisation. Between them they made possible a tribute fitting for such a special man. Thank You.

Peter Thomson


In 1989 NUPE, now Unison, sponsored a production of my play Who Cares Wins! for their centenary celebrations. Joe played the part of an injured scaffolder. He was modest about his acting skills, but was, of course, a gifted performer. It wasn't just the juggling, the musicianship, the humour, the presence. It was his ability to speak directly to the audience and engage them with his warmth and humanity. It was the character he developed, the fun he had, and the passionate commitment and in-depth understanding he brought to the ideas in the play. I wrote a monologue for him about privatisation in the health service based on his ability to keep at least 4 balls in the air. The scene went down a storm. It was an object lesson in how to make abstract political and economic concepts crystal clear and entertaining. A few days ago I found an old leaflet with the credits on the back.....and there it was, '...SONGS and MUSIC by KEITH MORRIS and JOE SCURFIELD.

In rehearsals and on tour Joe was a director's dream. He combined professionalism and self-discipline with such an amiable disposition. I remember rehearsing in our front room in Heaton, relaxing on the beach in Scarborough when MayDay Theatre performed at a big NUPE conference, and I always remember him smiling — with one exception. Actress Corinne Harris brought her beloved collie Flossie to rehearsals. Flossie went berserk whenever Joe juggled, barking and repeatedly stealing his balls. Eventually, Joe snapped, and Flossie was banned.

We never worked together again, but I loved listening to him play at the Cumberland, and delighted in the outrageous there-are-no-limits silliness of the ORSB. When he applied to the Northern Arts Travel and Training panel for some money to go to Sweden to learn Swedish fiddle tunes and techniques, I was happy to support him. I knew the money could not go to anybody more deserving, and that we would all benefit. My daughter took up the fiddle and Joe was always encouraging, never talking down to her. He was a rare one. He touched so many lives, and was such an optimist, he made you feel it was worth carrying on the fight. My heart goes out to his family, his partner and her daughter, to Pete and Tim, and his many friends.

Kathleen McCreery


Joe was a member of West End Housing Co-op for over 20 years ...... with his topiary steam engine puffing leaf smoke ... unicycling round our streets & back lanes chased by kids and dogs .... music spilling out ....all our 'co-op' kids enjoyed him .... his warmth, humour, patience and compassion in the endless Co-op meetings ..... his generosity — he taught me to play trombone in six easy lessons ..... joyful, playful and generous .... A really nice man .... And there aren't enough of them.

Lin Harwood


every springtime when we go out picking nettles I sing Joe's song Soup All Round.
and every springtime to come, for the rest of my life, I'll not only sing Joe's song,
but I'll also tell my kids and anyone else who cares to listen, about the lovely man who wrote the song,
and about how he made me laugh so much,
and how he played in the funniest band in the world,
and how I miss him and am so sad I won't be seeing him again.
and how I'll never forget him.

Pete White


When the musicians arrived in Shetland in 2005, Joe and the boys handed me a package. A present. It was just the perfect sort of thing you would expect from them — an egg. Not just AN egg but what will forever be known as THE egg. It fed about fifteen of us and the empty shell in my living room where Joe played late into the night will always remind me of the last time we had the pleasure of his company. We'll all miss you brother.

Alan Longmuir

The Egg

Joe rang me every year for the last ten years or so around November time. 'Eh up comrade' he'd say, usually on the answerphone, 'it's that time again. Leaflets. Where shall I drop them off for you to distribute?' It would be the Dance for Peace and Socialism, or Solidarity , or the true flame itself..... Joe WAS the true flame. HIs vision and his example are undiminished by his death and we can all still keep them flaming. Maybe this year I need to produce the leaflets .......

Katherine Zeserson


We were all so sorry to hear about Joe's passing. We all met at Priddy a couple of years ago, and can rarely recall enjoying a band more - we were talking about the musicianship and quality of the show for days afterwards. He will be sadly missed, and our deepest sympathies go out to all that were close to him.

Loscoe State Opera


What can you say..........great memories from our Social Work Conference in Bath 2004. Thoughts to Joe's family and the band.

Dave Hill


It's just not fair that such a man of men who gave us so much should be taken from us before the time has been set.
    Wassail The Betsey, Hageneth morris men.

Roger Green


I'll never forget Joe Scurfield. His passing is such a sorry and sensless loss.

When my father was on strike during the 1884/85 Miners strike Joe and the country pickets were a permanent fixture performing countless benefits in Durham and many other places - my son, then two years old, loved Joe's version of "Daddy what did you do in the strike?" so much that he sang it along with his nursery rhymes, some years later when Joe tried valiantly to teach me to juggle I told him he was responsible for teaching my child the word "shite" - He accepted responsibility with humour and grace!

I also recall that during the strike we were given a set of splendid kitchen knives as a raffle prize. The kind people who drew the winning ticket donated them back to the cause and they were raffled again and again in Durham so much so that they were greeted with groans by those who recognised them. Till the night that Joe drew the winning ticket. We were really glad that they would no longer be making an appearance. On being presented with them Joe announced that he'd take them home because they'd make a great raffle prize ... I like to think they may still be doing the rounds somewhere. I just wish Joe could be too.

I'll never forget you Joe, roaring nights dancing to "the Peanuts Band", Red Umbrella, everything you did for my family and others during the strike and later as the infinitely long suffering juggling teacher. Although I didn't know you well my family have grown up with you as the struggle has continued and changed. I can't believe you've gone from us but we'll never forget what you did. Thank you.

Lorraine Malyan and family


Met an old school friend in the Post Office who told me of Joe's death. I remember him at school as having the most wonderful hair, being a gentle caring person and once I remember he knitted Dr Who length scarves for his close friends. No wonder he went on to touch so many peoples lives, he was special all those years ago.

Carole Allman
formerly of Leek.


Damn. When we heard the news of what had happened, we couldn't believe it. Meeting Joe, Pete and Tim in Shetland was, for us, like running into long lost family. And playing together during the brief opportunities we had was a great pleasure, one which we believe made everyone around smile. Such will be our memory of Joe — a man who put smiles on the faces of everyone around. We hope to spread half the fun and laughter he did, and to humbly incorporate a small bit of his huge spirit into our act each night.

As we will sadly no longer have the opportunity to play with him, we'll now try to happily play for him.

John Wheeler and Hayseed Dixie


Joe was a real individual. My wife and I met him a few years back when we interviewed him for a local radio station. Quite simply, he was a lovely man, and is a great loss.

Keith Stevenson


It is late and I am just back from a session in a pub here in Worcester called the Lamb and Flag. But having see the New Rope String Band on Saturday night - and a damn fine night it was too, I am full of thoughts about the Old Ropes and about Joe.

I will never forget the New Year's eve of 1989 - and we were holed up in a cottage in Donegal. Joe arrived after cycling several days across Northern Ireland and Donegal to join us. He arrived a few days later than planned, as of course, he had been delayed en route by a pub or two where locals had heard his fiddle playing, demanded more - and then one thing had led to another. He could do that - transform the ordinary evening in to the spectacular! New Year's Eve in the wee bar in Rossbeg - Joe played with some enthusiastic accompanists - and the place was electric!

But I have other memories - like the ones where my class of Year 4's made a May Day Banner for the celebrations in Newcastle - Joe coming to the classroom and talking about Socialism to the children and inviting them down to the Congress - making it all feel real - like it mattered - and I know it did to those children. The drawings and designs they did following those days communicated that understanding.

This contribution is pathetically late - but it is true that Joe has rarely been far from my thoughts as one of the people who made things possible for me and hundreds of others. I wish I could have thanked him for that personally. So many times - when I have a "cup of tea", or hear Bella Ciao, or countless other tunes, I am transported - and there is one man I have to thank for some of the finest times I can remember, either because he was there, or because he inspired what happened.

Rupert Brakspear


Very sad to read about Joe. Have great memories of several performances. The Old Ropes were a great team and always put a smile on your face. I used to work at Westgate Hill primary school and remember hearing Joe's fiddle as I left school and walked past his steam train hedge. I had a 7 year old Tom Dalling in my class at the time – very nice lad sure he is now a fine young man. Hope to see New Ropes some time.

Al Stevens (Holmfirth)



last updated 22nd February 2007