Jim Irvine - 1938 - 2020

Thu, 12/03/2020 - 18:04
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Jim Irvine of South Shields was not a national folk name, but he was well known and respected by people on the national scene. He was a pivotal figure in the history of the folk movement of N.E. England. He is woven into its fabric. Jim had the charisma to create an ‘event’ whenever he was present, none more so than the legendary folk club he ran in South Shields – The Marsden Inn.

He qualified as a ‘genuine’ folky, having spent time as a shipyard worker, sea-going engineer, miner, factory worker, Durham university student and youth leader. In all those roles, he garnered friendships, many of which lasted for life, and created the character he became.

One ‘job’ remained constant - that of a musician (he played guitar, whistle, melodeon, fiddle and extra-large spoons) and ceilidh band leader, with the folk club’s ‘house band’, the well-known Marsden Rattlers (named after a local coal train).

It was at the Marsden Inn Folk Club in the 60s that I first got to know Jim, and I shared his love of local and traditional music. Like many before and after me, he encouraged us to participate as well as being enthusiastic members of the packed audience. His many friends from that time will never forget him.

Archie Fisher writes: “In the early days, the Marsden Inn was quite a daunting venue... I remember it as a vast echoing room that only the powerful voices of the Geordie singers could fill.  It was there that I learned to 'project' or as Jim put it, ‘…come out from behind the bleeping bus ticket, so we can hear you!’  He had a wry humour and always told it as it was.”

Christy Moore writes: “I did my first gig with Jim Irvine on October 6th, 1968. I arrived at the Marsden Inn that Sunday night, not knowing what to expect. Jim gave me a warm welcome and introduced me to The Marsden Rattlers. It was a unique club. The room was thronged and everyone in the room seemed to be on first name terms with everyone in the band. It was one of those clubs where the guest artist was always secondary to the resident band. Jim was a brilliant compere / front man / singer. Through Jim I got to meet so many of the musicians and clubs in the North East - The High Level Ranters, John Doonan, The Elliots of Birtley, Bob Davenport. It was a golden era and Jim Irvine was at the heart of it.”

Johnny Handle writes: “Jim Irvine had a lasting effect on the North East folk revival. An enthusiastic organiser and performer, he always found time to encourage others. In those early years he was quick to recognise the importance of the role of music and dance, founding the Marsden Rattlers, and making the South Shields Club a most respected venue for talent from all over Britain. Chris and I miss him deeply.”

Jim was diagnosed with MND 12 years ago and was gradually unable to carry on with his performing, or indeed other activities. His wife, Enid, has devoted all her time to looking after him during this time - they had been married 59 years, with 2 children, John and Sarah.

When asked by others how he was coping, his standard answer in recent times was, “I’m doing the best that I can.” Jim’s great friend, Ed Pickford, who visited every week, wrote this brilliant song.


I’m Doing The Best That I Can

by Ed Pickford


I served out my time - in yards by the Tyne

Dined in the dust of an old Westoe Mine

Busted my guts sailing ships of the line

Now I’m laid down like an old vintage wine

I’m doing the best that I can

Time’s on my shoulder - sand falls through glass

Winters grow colder and all things must pass

Still splice the mainbrace - when watching the sun

Over the yardarm - to help my wheels run

And I’m doing the best that I can


Doing the best that I can

Easy and slow

Go with the flow

I am no man with a plan

I’m doing the best that I can  


I rise and lock horns - with day as it dawns

That time is my time - before the world yawns

Coffee pot purring and spurring to life

Sunrise is stirring as sweet as my wife

I’m doing the best that I can

Books are old friend that I take from the shelf

Rich in ideas I plunder their wealth

We walk together by life’s golden stream

Birds of a feather we’re living a dream

And I’m doing the best that I can


Doing the best that I can

Say what I mean

Mean what I say

Sometimes I don’t give a damn

I’m doing the best that I can


Still fix my bayonet - not looking to hide

Fighting the system - a thorn in its side

Last thing in life - I’ll lose is my pride

I’m doing the best that I can


Nigel Hammill