The power of Triple Trawler Disaster song cycle 12 Silk Handkerchiefs by radical songwriter Reg Meuross brings a community to its feet.

UPDATE – this show is on tour this Autumn supported by public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, visiting venues and cities closely linked to the fishing, shipping and maritime communities of England.

All the dates and details HERE.

More than 400 people in Hull Minster gave a standing ovation for the song cycle 12 Silk Handkerchiefs by acclaimed singer/songwriter Reg Meuross on 8th November 2018. Extra seating had to be provided for the many from the Hessle Road fishing community who walked in on the night.

The music which tells of fighting fishwife Lillian Bilocca, who led a battle for better trawler safety following the Triple Trawler Disaster of 1968, was at the heart of a multi-media show in the Minster on November 8. Former Deputy Prime Minister Lord John Prescott, who campaigned with Mrs Bilocca when he was a young trade unionist led the tribute that brought hundreds to their feet.

The songs were inspired by the book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries by Brian W Lavery, who curated and narrated the sell-out show.

The book’s title is now shorthand for the four women Lillian Bilocca, Mary Denness, Yvonne Blenkinsop and Christine Jensen MBE (formerly Smallbone) who fought the trawler bosses in a campaign which ended in Westminster.

Reg was joined by Hull musicians Sam Martyn and Mick McGarry to tell the story to an audience that included last-surviving Headscarf Revolutionary Mrs Yvonne Blenkinsop.

The show also covered a fourth tragedy telling how Lillian Bilocca was ostracised by her community and overlooked by history, ending her days in obscurity.

The show’s title comes from Lil’s last action in 1988 as she lay dying, which was to send her daughter Virginia to buy a dozen handkerchiefs to give as gifts to those who had cared for her in hospital.

The audience also had relatives of the three other women who battled for better safety at sea after three Hull trawlers, the St Romanus, the Kingston Peridot and the Ross Cleveland perished in as many weeks in what became known as the Dark Winter in which 58 men died.

The show had rarely-seen archive footage, photos and audio of Harry Eddom, the disaster’s sole survivor and mate of the Ross Cleveland.

Hundreds from Hessle Road’s fishing community sat alongside relatives of the Headscarf Revolutionaries and of those lost in the tragedy.

They were overwhelmed by the power of the show, with many in tears.

Yvonne Blenkinsop, was joined in the front row by Ernie Bilocca and Minnie King, the son and sister respectively of Lillian Bilocca, and Lorna and Alex, the daughter and grandson respectively of Mary Denness.

One hundred members of Hull Unison joined with the community in the packed out Hull Minster, with the Lord Mayor Councillor Peter Allen, accompanied by John Prescott.

This story which was overlooked until for many years The Headscarf Revolutionaries was published, unfolded in a powerful narration from author and journalist and academic Dr Brian W Lavery, an authority on the trawling industry, whose book inspired the songs.

The Lord Mayor, who knew Lillian Bilocca said: “On Saturday I attended the Hull Minster to see the showing of 12 Silk Handkerchiefs which told, in a narrative and music, the battles of Big Lil in fighting for Jujtice for the fishermen and the way she was finally treated at the end of her life.

“From the narrative of Brian Lavery to the musical prowess of the three Musicians it must have made everyone think of how Big Lil should have been treated and I’m sure would be treated if we were all given a second chance.

“If you have the chance to watch the programme in the future, then go along and be surprised, I know I was.”

Singer Mick McGarry, a lifelong union activist and doyen of the city’s music scene said: “It was a moving and humbling experience for me to be asked to be part of this.

“I really enjoyed working with such talented people as Reg, Brian and Sam.

“Reg’s ability to weave the story from Brian’s book into such powerful songs is fantastic.

“Brian’s presence and skillful delivery of this very emotional story made him the perfect narrator.

“As a singer myself it was an absolute joy to work with Sam, in my opinion one of the finest singers on the folk music scene.

‘This was one of the best nights I have ever experienced as a performer.”

Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sam Martyn said: “The Hull Minster concert was one of the most special projects I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of and the memory of it will stay with me forever.

“Just the chance to work with Reg, one of this country’s finest singer-songwriters, was in itself amazing, but performing in front of the very people our show was about was something else.

“As I saw them take their seats in the front row, I realised even more how much this matters to them, and how we had a responsibility to do their story justice.

“And that standing ovation… that’s when it hit home that we had done them justice and there wasn’t a dry eye on stage or in the audience.

‘Just an incredible moment. I keep saying privilege but that’s what it was – a massive honour and privilege to be involved in this.”

Brian added: “Reg Meuross tells a story as only he can with beautifully crafted lyrics and melodies that touch the soul.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a Meuross song must be worth so much more.

‘With these six wonderful songs, this poet has re-cast a story that took me eighty-thousand words to tell. And I am honoured and delighted that he did.”

What started as a performance ended as a heartfelt remembrance and tribute from audience and artists alike, not only for the 58 fishermen who perished in 1968 to the 6,000 souls who sailed from Hull never to return to this tight-knit community on the north east coast of England.

The show is touring. Check HERE for dates.

Listen to an excerpt from the CD HERE


Music: Reg Meuross with Sam Martyn and Mick McGarry, narrated by Brian W Lavery

Official release: HAT 013 14th December 2018 via Proper Records

Reg Meuross

Described by BBC Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe as ‘a brilliant singer-songwriter with a social conscience’, Reg Meuross first emerged onto the acoustic music scene in the 1980s with the fast paced duo Panic Brothers and has, over the years of touring and playing solo as well as with many other acclaimed artists, developed a style that as Pete Townshend says ‘allows the listener to embrace the whole breadth of his work over many years without distraction… he sings in the neutral accent of an Englishman who travels the entirety of the British Isles, and tastes all its flavours, influenced by all its most profound national colours. In this he reminds one of Roy Harper or Ewan McColl, recent greats who went before him.’ Reg then went on to form the band The Flamingos which featured ex Graham Parker guitarist Martin Belmont, Bob Loveday from The Penguin Cafe Orchestra & Bob Geldof’s Band & Alison Jones of The Barely Works. They recorded one album called ‘Arrested’.

In 1996 Reg decided to go solo and has since released 13 highly acclaimed studio albums. Reg’s appearances at art centres, music clubs and festivals throughout the UK and abroad, and his albums have established his songs as ‘the hinges upon which swing the doors of perceptive English folk’ (Folkwords). Festival appearances include: Cropredy, Folk on the Coast, Bude, Great British Folk Festival, Auckland Festival NZ, Broadstairs Folk Week, Gate To Southwell, Costa Del Folk, Illawarra Folk Festival (Australia) and many more, small and large. Reg is the patron artist of Priston Folk Festival in Somerset and Bridport Folk Festival in Dorset and of Holywell Music and Folk in Oxford.

Quotes: ‘One of the most talented storytellers of our generation’ Pennyblack Music. ‘Powerful and moving songwriting’ Martin Chilton, The Telegraph. ‘A mighty songwriter and an equally fine singer’. Martin Carthy

Brian W Lavery was born in Glasgow’s East End in 1959. He has been a factory worker, car valet, market trader, waiter, university dropout, VAT officer (very briefly) and latterly a journalist, university tutor and writer. After more than twenty-five years of various senior roles in national and regional journalism he returned to higher education and gained a first in English literature and creative writing at the University of Hull. His book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries (Barbican Press, 2015) – now optioned by a major television production company – derived from a funded PhD at that university, where he taught creative nonfiction. His new book The Luckiest Thirteen, the story of the St Finbarr 1966 Christmas Day trawler disaster has already established itself as another best-seller for Barbican Press this year.

In 2017, he contributed to End Notes, a collection published by the University of Hull as part of its Crossing Over project; and Hull: Culture, History, Place(Liverpool University Press, 2017) – with a chapter about trawler safety campaigner Lillian Bilocca.

His programme for BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought series, entitled Courage and Effect, was also drawn from his doctoral research. The Oxford University National Dictionary of Biography (‘the biographer’s Bible’) commissioned him to write the entry on Mrs Bilocca, aka Big Lil. Planet Publications (Wales) and Umber has published his short fiction over the years, and Other Poetry, About Larkin and the Larkin Press have published his poetry.

Dr Lavery has lived in Hull with his wife Kathryn for more than thirty-five years. They have two grown-up daughters, Catriona and Rose. He is an honorary research associate at the University of Hull and works as a writer, journalist and creative writing tutor. He is proud to teach with the Workers’ Educational Association

Sam Martyn is a member of Hull folk band Beggar’s Bridge, the White Horse Ceilidh Band and the Green Ginger Garland dancers, and she also performs solo – when she can find the time! Combining her rich, traditional singing style with piano, low and high whistle, and harmonium, her eclectic repertoire stretches from folk ballads to her own reworkings of musical and popular songs.

Mick McGarry is a stalwart of the Hull folk scene for the past fifty years. He sings with the highly-respected singing group Spare Hands and is front man with cult-status steam-punk folk rockers The Hillbilly Troupe. He has sang and performed with some of the biggest names in the business and is much admired as ‘the singer’s singer.’

Reg Meuross Singer Songwriter Storyteller