In the later 20th century and first decades of the 21st century, the Newcastle upon Tyne born author and poet Keith Armstrong has been and remains an inescapable figure in the creative life of North East England.
Keith Armstrong is a writer from Tyneside. He was born on 25 June 1946 at home in Danby Gardens, in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne. His varied career has embraced community development worker, poet, librarian and publisher. Between 1980 and 1986 he held the post of Community Arts Development Worker with Peterlee Community Arts (later East Durham Community Arts). In recent years home has been the seaside town of Whitley Bay. He is coordinator of Northern Voices Community Projects which specialises in creative writing and community publishing. Over the years various community arts festivals in the region and many literary events have been organised. He has compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners' Gala, on the former mining communities of County Durham, the market town of Hexham and on North Tyneside heritage in From Segedunum to Spanish City. The latter in 2010 was one of the projects generated through Northern Voices Community Projects at Whitley Bay.
Keith's poetry has been extensively published in magazines as well as in collections and on radio & TV. He has also written for music-theatre productions. He has performed his poetry on several occasions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at Festivals in Bradford, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Greenwich, Lancaster.
As an industrial librarian, he was christened 'Arts & Darts', organising poetry readings, theatrical productions, and art exhibitions by his fellow workers, as well as launching Ostrich poetry magazine using the firm's copying facilities and arranging darts matches between departments!
He has been a self-employed writer since 1986 and in 2007 he was awarded a PhD, on the work of Newcastle writer Jack Common, at the University of Durham from where he also received a BA Honours Degree in Sociology in 1995 and master's degree in 1998 for his studies on regional culture in the North East of England. He has held many residencies in the North East, including Hexham Racecourse as part of Year of the Artist in 2000 and at The Grand Hotel Tynemouth in 2010.
Keith has long pioneered cultural exchanges with Durham's twinning partners, particularly Tuebingen and Nordenham in Germany and Ivry-sur-Seine and Amiens in France, as well as with Newcastle's Dutch twin-city of Groningen. He enjoys mixing travel and work with folk-musicians from North East England. A key collaborator has been Gary Miller and Armstrong wrote the lyrics for a 1995 album called Bleeding Sketches, by folk-rock band The Whisky Priests, with whom he has toured extensively in The Netherlands. This association dates back to November 1989 and has been well charted. Another Armstrong/Miller collaboration in 2003 remembered the Hexham Riot of 1761.
Keith has edited and published a book to celebrate the centenary of Spanish City, Whitley Bay. This is a notable piece of architecture being an early example of Hennebique concrete construction from 1910.
Recognition of his contribution to culture has come in Durham University establishing a Keith Armstrong collection.
'Our latterday Thomas Spence.' (John Charlton, North East History)
'No one in the North East has written and read and encouraged and organised so consistently and over so long a period as Keith Armstrong. His poetry is different, original, and politically exhilarating.' (Andy Croft, Smokestack Books)
‘There are those who tell the terrible truth in all its loveliness. Keith Armstrong is one of them, a fine poet who refuses to turn his back on the wretched of the Earth. He is one of the best and I hope his voice will be heard more and more widely.' (Adrian Mitchell, Poet)
'Keith's poems raised goose pimples but also thoughts about today's culture.' (Peter Lewis, Hexham Courant)
'Keith is a noted Geordie wordsmith, a bloke whose musings were always radical, though of their place.' (Folk Roots magazine)
'An absolute must for anyone seeking a bit more than meaningless lyrics and musical nihilism.' (Charmaine O'Reilly, in 'The Edge' speaking of Bleeding Sketches)