Barearse Boy

Jon Tait’s family have lived in the hills of the Anglo-Scottish borders for at least six hundred years. He is a direct descendant of a notorious seventeenth-century reiver family who lived in Barearse near Yetholm in Scotland, rustling cattle, burning farms and putting their neighbours to the sword. In this modern take on Scott’s Border Minstrelsy, Tait follows the reiver people as they are forced from their rural heartlands into the industrial and post-industrial North East of England in search of work. If Kinmont Willie Armstrong were around today, he would recognise himself and his people in a book that celebrates the working class culture of the North. Written with the lawless spirit as well as the dourness and defiance of the original Border Ballads, Barearse Boy is as rooted in the purple heather moorlands of the borders as the writer himself.

Cover photo credit: Edward Martin, Scottish Border Reiver
Author photo credit: Sally Robson.

Sample Poems

Kinmont’s Bairns

There’s a mosaic of the capture of Kinmont Willie
on the underpass wall.
Bearded, defiant, trussed up on horseback
with a cheering crowd following behind.
Funny, but they don’t have one
of his escape from the square red fortress.

No-one scrawls graffiti on this wall,
as if his power and influence have carried on
down the centuries when now
he’d be sitting in a back room of a barbers,
a butcher shop or bookies
hair starting to go bald at the crown
open-collared polo shirt
the flash of gold from his thick chain
against his hairy chest, holding court
like Tony Soprano,
hot espresso and cigarettes on his breath
with his crew sat around like crocodiles.

We’re all Kinmont’s bairns now.

Big Meeting

Packed into the hall with red lodge banner
loud jabbering voices of angry conversations, confusion,
screeching chairs, men in black donkey jackets
with orange back panels
smoke drifting and clinging in yellow, grey and brown clouds
we’d seen the scabs bussed into the pit
with mesh on the windows like Belfast
then the union man with large sideburns
brylcreemed hair and crumpled white shirt
tucked unevenly into a baggy suit
stands at the front with arms raised
as the commotion dies down and says
Wuh’ve browt yuh ahl here tuh let yuh knaa
whaat wuh knaa, lads.   

A short pause, expectation.

Wuh knaa nowt.

Back to the pickets, the Russian food parcels.


The seagulls lined up
on the back breeze block wall
shriek mockery at the goalkeeper
with bobbing heads.

Large empty skies
grey as old chewing gum
as the fog steadily lifts,
revealing the red, white & blue
of Union Jack flags
hanging limply from
the green perimeter fence.

Shadowy ghosts hidden
behind the nicotine-yellow net curtains
of crumbling bacon & egg B&Bs
with sauce clagged round the bottle top
the bookies & pubs
& cheap discount stores

those lost names a muster call
howked out of the black belly
of the earth
& trundled along the belt…


programme folded in jeans back pocket,
groundsman poking a fork in the pitch.

The music from the p.a. speakers
distant, gone in the wind,
blown out of the ground with
swirling empty crisp packets.

Corner flags flapping
like Tibetan prayer silks.

Pub Story

Auld Jack played oot on the wing
fought in the International Brigades
in Spain
& got a limp in Ebro
yellow dust powdered face
dull metal clang of a bullet
punching into a steel helmet
he copped a shard of shrapnel
for the cause
& married a Spanish lass
that he met in the hospital
who scrubbed the soot
off their red terrace step
& instead of olive trees saw
smoke billowing out of chimney stacks
a wet gleam like calm seas on the roof slates
shipyard cranes peering out of the gloom
& do you knaa, bonny lad,
he couldn’t half cross a bahl.


‘full of energy, wit, anger, irony, joy.’

Mistress Quickly’s Bed

‘Tait pulls no verbal punches and creates a collection whose style veers between beat-generation prose poems and tenderly crafted lyrics.’

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