The Old Rope String Band

Joe Scurfield

Joe Scurfield

Joe is dead.

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

We wanted to give you a better picture of Joe. Here are some thoughts:

Joe Scurfield was so many things: A musician. A life long socialist, trade unionist and activist. A Musicians' Union and Equity delegate to Newcastle TUC – of which he was Secretary for three years. He was the creative genius behind the Old Rope String Band, constantly coming up with new ideas and songs. He was the driving force behind the Band's nearly twenty years of touring.

For the best part of a decade Joe was central to the organising of May Day celebrations on Tyneside, including the Centenary event in 1990. For many years he also galvanised a team to make the annual Dance for Peace and Socialism happen (a name he was happy to change to Peace and Solidarity to help the vibrant young anarchists come on board). He marched with his trombone and his placards and his warmth.

During the Miners' Strike Joe was a whirlwind. 6.00 a.m. picket duty, then street collecting, then off in the van to play a benefit gig with his country and western band 'The Country Pickets'. The sense of solidarity and euphoria at some of those events will stay with a lot of people all their lives.

He was a country and western fiddler both with the Pickets and with his friend Steve Jinski in 'The Cheated Hearts', and he was fiddler with the Newcastle based 'Occasional Bluegrass Band'. He played with Red Music, a political dance band which grew out of the Red Umbrella collective and with the 'We Don't Want The Peanuts We Want The Plantation' dance band. He wanted his music to help change things but really his heart was with the traditional tunes.

Playing with other people was what fired Joe, and if they were playing Swedish or Irish tunes then he was in his element. But he loved anything that ordinary people played with their hearts. He once spent two hours learning a tune that had caught his ear from a blind busker in China - every so often dropping another coin into the hat until he had the tune right.

He was a tap dancer, a clog dancer, a mandolinist, a juggler, a unicyclist, a fire eater and an astonishing linguist. It seemed as if he could communicate with anybody. He was fluent in Danish, Dutch, French and Spanish, and in the last few months had mastered Malay sufficiently to write a song in it.

He wrote tunes that people just took hold of and wanted to play. He wrote songs that needed to be written about the Iraq War for oil or about the strike for union recognition by the workers at the French Connection clothing factory in South Shields or about making nettle soup or about McDonald's burning down (Yippee!).

It was the details of Joe's life that made him an exceptional man. He thought hard about the consequences of everything he did, however trivial and then lightly and confidently did the right thing. He was governed by kindness (and a bit of bloody anger). People relied on Joe because they knew they always could.

One incident recalls his typical humour and modesty. When he retired from the May Day Committee, in 1991, Newcastle TUC presented him with an award. The Minutes state: 'Bro Joe Scurfield said that this was his first trophy since winning an under 14s football competition, but he accepted the Award on the basis that a lot of hidden work had been done by others.'

The greatest joy of his life was that he had found his true love, his sweetheart, his 'honneponnetje' Rianne from Lochem in the Achterhoek of the Netherlands. Mostly they waltzed but they also tangoed and there was some belly dancing. She and Mariza her daughter were his rock and his peace. She is amazing.

His loving family, mother Jenny, brothers Harry, Sam, Tom and Dick and sister Georgie shared and inspired his sense of social justice.

A silly boy in a motor car killed Joe and his good friend and fellow Red Music member Keith Morris, an internationally respected composer, (of whom much will be said elsewhere) as they were walking down the West Road in Newcastle to catch last orders.

Joe will be remembered with love by everyone who met him.

Any donations to the music fund for Cuba would be fantastic: www.musicfundforcuba.org.uk or telephone 020 7263 6452.


last updated 28th June 2005