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Contact Johnny and Chris: By telephone +44 (0) 1207 543873  johnnyhandle@hotmail.com

Johnny was born in Wallsend-on -Tyne in 1935. His early years were spent in Walker surrounded by the pits and industry that would form such a major part of his writings over the years. A wartime move further up the Tyne valley to Hexham gave Johnny his first taste of country life and an enduring passion for the beauty of Northumberland's landscape. It was also around this time that Johnny, inspired by his aunties singing Geordie songs, took his first steps into a musical career and enrolled for piano lessons. His family moved back to Newcastle after the war and Johnny attended Heaton Grammar School where he joined the school traditional jazz band. In 1952 he started work in the coal mines as a datal hand and then an apprentice surveyor. When he qualified in 1959 he moved to the Rising Sun Pit in Wallsend.

By this time Johnny had been playing in various jazz clubs with his own trio and the Clem Avery Band. Not content with sticking to Jazz, Johnny was also very much involved in dancehalls, concert parties and pub piano gigs. He had also become proficient on various other instruments including guitar, banjo, bass and played trumpet at Winlaton Mill village dance. He started his own trad jazz band - The Levee Ramblers, and a Jazz club at Marlborough Crescent.

By the age of 22 Johnny's diary was packed with dates, including club and pub piano residencies, and played bass with the Vieux Carre band at The New Orleans Club in Newcastle twice a week. On his nights off he was exploring Blues music around the local venues.

In 1958 Johnny met folksinger Louis Killen and enthused by the revival of folk music, they started the Folksong & Ballad Club in Newcastle. By 1960 Johnny had reduced his jazz and piano gigs to concentrate on the Folk scene. His surveying and draughtsman skills took him to ICI Teesside whilst his musical career went from strength to strength. During 1961 his musical interests took him into the world of television and he met up with Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and A.L.Lloyd whilst producing and performing in various radio and TV projects. The move to Stockton made it feasible to play the Folksong & Ballad only fortnightly but by now he had started Stockton Folk Club featuring fellow composer Graeme Miles.

A job at Ellington Colliery in Northumberland brought Johnny back to Tyneside where he lived in The Black Gate in the centre of Newcastle while Folksong & Ballad Club found its permanent home in the nearby Bridge Hotel. By now Johnny was playing melodeon, accordion and Northumbrian pipes. In 1965, as well as starting teacher Training, he formed the High Level Ranters folk group. Around this time the folk scene really took off and the Ranters were becoming in demand throughout the country. By 1968, Johhny was a qualified teacher working with special needs students.

Through the 1970s and early 80s the band played for Folk Festivals, European, American and Australian tours, as well as lots of recording work necessary to cope with their popularity . Weekends and School Holidays were busy times indeed. The late seventies saw a few changes in the Ranters' line up. Alistair Anderson and Tom Gilfellon left, so Colin and Johnny were joined by Jim Hall for more European work.  By now Johnny was also well established as a solo performer around the folk clubs and started producing albums with various accompanists including Chuck Fleming and Pete Wood. He has produced 8 CDs on his own 'Carrsgate' Label, all currently on sale. Johnny still works very hard and does as many gigs as he can fit into his schedule. His passion for folk music has led him to do lots of research work for radio and television as well as the Northumbrian Anthology series of CDs, and the FARNE website.

2009 saw Johnny recording two new albums: 'Heather and Sweet Smoke' with his wife Chris Hendry and a CD of Geordie recitations 'Fairly Truthful Tyneside Tales.'  

Although Johnny is cutting back on his performing, he has managed to do six concerts at the Sage Gateshead over the last few years, including a sell out evening with Chris. 2010 saw them visit Australia for concerts and a Festival, and more recently an Irish tour proved very successful.

They continue to take part in the Whitby Folk Festival each year, often featuring new discoveries from Johnny’s researches into local collections.

Doing less gigs has given Johnny more time to explore the archives of local songs and poems, and getting down to digitising his many compositions with the aim of producing song and tune books.

Barbary Jazz Band Colin's Band 1955 Clem Avery Band 1954 Johnny Handle with A L Lloyd High Level Ranters High Level Ranters USA 1979

An interview with Eric Burdon of The Animals revealed that he first heard 'House of the Rising Sun' in a club in Newcastle, where it was sung by a Northumbrian folk singer called Johnny Handle. The Animals were on tour with Chuck Berry and chose it because they wanted something distinctive to sing. This interview refutes assertions that the inspiration for The Animals' arrangement came directly from Dylan's recording. Regardless, the Animals enjoyed a huge hit with the song, much to Dylan's chagrin when his version was referred to as a cover of The Animals' version!

"Missionary of the Geordie speaking peoples"
Mike Harding

Johnny Handle’s biography