John Homer - from a mining community to an award-winning songwriter

An occasional series of portraits of Creative Coquetdale Folk by Katie Scott.

Thursday, 10th October 2019, 4:00 pm
Award-winning songwriter John Homer. Picture by Katie Scott

John Homer is a very talented musician and singer-songwriter.

Raised by his mother and grandparents, John and his younger brother spent their early years on Tyneside.

“We lived in a terraced house in a coal-mining community; outside loo, no bathroom, a tin bath in front of the fire,” he said.

When he started grammar school, John’s family moved to a council house, with an indoor toilet, and a bathroom. ‘It was luxury!’ He began to write poetry and enjoyed art and music.

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While at school, John taught himself to play the guitar. He had to borrow one to play, as he did not own a guitar until his mother bought one for his 21st birthday. John and a school friend formed a duo writing and performing songs. Playing in the local folk clubs, a song writing partnership developed which continues occasionally today.

John studied chemistry at university. He was funded to do a PhD researching polymers and photochemistry. After completing his PhD, John worked in the chemical industry, first in Teesside, then Zurich. He enjoyed life in Switzerland, especially the travel opportunities his job gave him, “I travelled to virtually every country in Europe as well as the US, China, Japan, Thailand – lots of Asia”.

Although he played in bands while abroad, it was when he retired to Rothbury in 2006 that he had more time to write and compose. He has recorded more than 150 songs, many of them with historical themes. Lately he has begun writing about 60s icons: “I’ve written about Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Doris Day and others,” he tells me.

John has twice won the Morpeth Gathering songwriting prize and, recently, the Bob Anderson Cup for Original Composition at the Rothbury Music Festival. A Simple Man, tells the story of an imaginary conversation Lord Armstrong has negotiating the purchase of land for Cragside.

I'm a simple man, your grace; a self-made engineer

You'll recall I brought clean water to your servants

I need to leave the city crowds and grimy atmosphere

If you would help me with this purchase

The power of water brought fortune & fame

The big guns on Tyneside clash out the name

The bigger skies with which my heart's been taken

The windswept moors above the vale

I'll plant the trees and be a worthy patron

Of this fair spot in Coquetdale …

John performs his original material alone, in two duos: Burke and Homer and BrassNeck, in a trio, Northern Men, and a quartet, Sound Medicine. Songs can be heard on www.soundcloud/northeasterner​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​