Songwriter 1935 - 2001
One of the proudest moments in the life of Alex Glasgow, who has died in Fremantle, aged 65, after a long illness, was when he heard a miner on the radio saying: "It's like the old song says, 'Close the coalhouse door, lads, there's blood inside'."
The reason for his pride was simple: it wasn't an old song. Glasgow, a pitman's son from Newcastle upon Tyne, wrote it originally for a radio program, and it later became the title song for the 1968 stage musical which Alex and I wrote, in partnership with the novelist and short-story writer Sid Chaplin.
It's one of many songs that have an enduring place in the psyche of England's north-east and the labour movement. There are probably a few old comrades in Sedgefield who can sing My Daddy Is A Left-wing Intellectual or The Socialist ABC:
A is for Alienation, that made me the man that I am
And B's for the boss who's a bastard, a bourgeois who don't give a damn ...
Glasgow was, in the words of his long-time friend and associate, Henry Livings, a supreme songmaker, but he was much else besides: a broadcaster on radio and television, a writer, a singer, a socialist and, to quote another of his songs, a proper man. He started his career in armed forces broadcasting and once had a record in the German charts, an experience echoed when his recording of Dance To Thi Daddy - the theme music of the BBC series When The Boat Comes In, for which he wrote some memorable episodes - made it to the charts.
This revealed Glasgow at his most characteristic. He refused resolutely to go on Top of the Pops, or do guest shots on any television variety shows. "I'm not a bloody commodity," he said. Once, before an ideologically acceptable appearance on television with Livings, he was appalled when a make-up girl tried to cut his hair "to match the picture in the Radio Times".
"Leave my hair alone," he said. "I do not have a public image."
He was highly principled and wonderfully combative. But friends and colleagues were united in admiration of his unique talent. In the theatre he collaborated with Stan Barstow and Henry Livings, and wrote Joe Lives, a wonderful one-man show for John Woodvine, about the great 19th-century Tyneside radical and songwriter, Joe Wilson. This work revealed the huge range in Glasgow's musical palette, from angry polemic to knees-up music-hall to love songs of surpassing tenderness: In The Night There Is A Garden, The Harlequin and Sally Wheatley are as lovely as anything written in the last 40 years. The obvious explanation is that they were inspired by a 40-year love affair with his wife, Paddy.
As a performer, maybe the most accurate description of him was chansonnier. And he figured if he was doing his job properly, he should always be in trouble. One year in the 1970s, when the Tories were having their conference in Blackpool, the delegates awoke to Glasgow's sweet tones singing on a North Region radio program:
I'm going to sell a little bomb to South Africa
Just a teeny-weeny bomb to South Africa ...
Questions were asked, Glasgow's head rolled, and several of his associates on the program left in sympathy, out of old-fashioned solidarity: those were the days.
But even his nearest and dearest were shocked when, in 1981, he left his native Gateshead and moved to Fremantle. The year before, he and Livings had appeared at the Perth Festival in their popular road show, The Northern Drift, and Glasgow fell in love with the place.
He and Paddy celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in mid-air on their way to a new life. He justified the move with his special brew of unchallengeable assertions. "They're wonderful people. They're all like Geordies. And do you realise, 70 per cent of the world's wildflowers are in Western Australia?" His Letters from a Pom, and Livings's replies, were a regular feature in The Guardian during the early period of his migration. He is survived by Paddy, sons Richard and Daniel and daughter Ruth.
The Guardian, London