Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 10 Jan. '34, Gateshead-on-Tyne, Tyneside, formerly Co. Durham) English folk revival singer and concertina player who brought a formidable singing talent and focused repertoire of regional and work songs to British folk revival. He heard folk songs as a child which, in the words of an early EP's sleeve notes, were "never thought of as folk songs, they were [Geordie] songs.' At Catholic Workers' College in Oxford he became involved '57 with the Heritage Society, widening his knowledge of folk music forms. He was a founding member of the Tyneside folk scene at the Newcastle Folk Song & Ballad Club '58, one of the earliest of the folk revival clubs, his early repertoire embracing skiffle, blues, music hall, Geordie and other folk songs; he was spotted on a trip to London by Ewan MacColl who invited him to contribute to his "radio ballad' Song of the Road, leading to greater involvement in the pre-planning of The Big Hewer, which used song and oral reminiscences in a radio drama of Northern English mining life, and he also worked on the further radio ballad At The Edge. He made EPs on Topic '62 with Johnny Handle and Colin Ross (later of High Level Ranters), The Colliers' Rant, subtitled "Mining Songs of the Northumberland-Durham Coalfield', an early exploration of mining songs, and Northumbrian Garland, subtitled "Songs from the North-East and the Border'. Johnny Handle's EP Stottin Doon The Waall ("Bouncing along the wall' in Geordie) completed Killen's concept of a trilogy of EPs to show off various aspects of the region's musical tradition, what in later years would be called a concept album; the release of Handle's EP did not coincide with the others and the overall impact was diminished, butAlong The Coaly Tyne on Topic '68 later compiled the three. Killen's reputation spread as the various outposts of the British folk revival made contact. He became part of Centre 42, a trade union-inspired organisation which toured Britain '62 and which incl. Bob Davenport and Cyril Tawney, that year also contributing to A.L. Lloyd, MacColl and Peggy Seeger's Whaler out of New Bedford (Folkways), described as the "musical score from the film". With Davenport and Tawney, Ian Campbell, Redd Sullivan and Dave Swarbrick he made an album of seafaring songs, Farewell Nancy on Topic. He was recruited for Lloyd's Iron Muse project '62 on Topic UK/Elektra US, a pioneering exploration of industrial folk song which also featured Anne Briggs and Ray Fisher, both of whom had been part of Centre 42. He was on the live folk revival "sampler' Hootenanny In London '63 on Decca with Alex Campbell, Martin Carthy, Redd Sullivan and others. His own solo album Ballads and Broadsides concentrated on so-called "big songs' including "Young Edwin In The Lowland', "The Flying Cloud' (one of his most memorable and requested repertoire items), "Thorneymoor Woods' and "Banks of Sweet Primroses'; he also contributed to Tommy Armstrong of Tyneside, a tribute from local performers such as Maureen Craik, Tom Gilfellon, Handle and Ross, both '65 on Topic. Armstrong (1848-1919) was a miner, poet and songwriter. Killen visted the USA for three months '66 USA and emigrated there '67. Albums under his own name followed incl. Sea Chanteys on ESP '68, 50 South to 50 South on Seaport '75, Bright Shining Morning (co-credited to then wife Sally Killen) on Front Hall '75, Old Songs, Old Friends on Front Hall '78 and Gallant Lads Are We on Collector '80. He worked with Clancy Brothers '71-3 appearing on their Show Me The Way and Save The World '72, both on Audio Fidelity, and compilation The Clancy Brothers Greatest Hits on Vanguard '73. Also collaborated with Jeff and Gerret Warner and Fud Benson for Steady As She Goes on Collector '77 and with Stan Hugill & X Seaman's Institute for Sea Music of Many Lands on Folkways '81 (for whom he had contributed to earlier compilation Sea Songs '79). Guested on Peter Bellamy's Both Sides Then on Topic '79 (reissued by Hokey Pokey '92). Released solo self-prod. cassette The Rose In June (K.O. Productions) '89, showing undiminished skill with traditional ballads, the title track an especially compelling reading, followed by Sailors, Ships and Chanteys '95 and A Seaman's Garland '97 as well as diverse collection A Bonny Bunch '97, all on K.O. He brought a formidable singing talent and a valuable repertoire of regional and work songs to the British folk revival.