As the region prepares to mourn legendary performer Vin Garbutt at his funeral today, The Northern Echo’s folk columnist Jez Lowe pays his own tribute

AFTER emerging from a Vin Garbutt concert many years ago, our voices hoarse from singing along, and our sides aching from laughing so much, we all wondered, as many times before, why the Teeside Troubadour wasn’t a megastar, a household name, such was his unique but all-inclusive appeal that came across in each and every performance.

Martin Carthy, England’s leading folk singer and a cult-figure himself if ever there was one, once offered his opinion on this conundrum.

“Vin flies better under the radar,” he said. I suppose there was much truth in that, but you’d never have believed it last week, when messages of condolence and sadness came pouring in from all over the world, lamenting the loss of a man who had devoted much of his life to entertaining us with the music he loved.

It was obvious that he had touched the hearts of so many people, fellow-performers and audiences alike, both with the power of his performance, and with his out-going, friendly and vivacious personality. Heaven-bound, he was well above the radar, and people wanted to let everyone else know how much he’d be missed.

I was still a schoolboy when I first saw him, and he himself wasn’t much older, and yet he seemed fully-formed in style and in attitude. He was indeed unique, as well as uncompromising and totally sincere in everything he did.

You could perhaps trace his Irish ancestry in his words and in his songs, but the onstage delivery of what he did must surely have come from within him, because there was no-one else to compare him to on that score. When we talked about it once, he told me how the humour, the zany use of language and comic phrasing came from his own family, and moreover from Teesside itself.

His pride in his background was well known, and he unflinchingly expressed it to whole world. It was as if the essence of James Joyce, John Lennon, Spike Milligan and Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners had been forged into one whole being in an ICI workshop in South Bank in 1947, and then let loose into the world, armed with a guitar and a tin whistle.

Despite the sadness of his loss, every time I’ve talked about him with friends in the last few days, it’s always ended with every one of us hooting with laughter, remembering some story that he told from the stage, or at an informal get-together after a festival or a gig.

His mastery of the zany tale and comic timing was part of his everyday persona, as well as his professional one, and his deeply caring nature was no surprise to anyone who heard his own songs, and the songs of others that he chose to lend that voice of his to.

His home on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea near Loftus was a cherished respite from the rigours of touring, and here he welcomed fellow-musicians and travellers from all over the world across his doorstep, much the same as many of them had done to him, and the rest of us wayward folkies, over the years.

We can talk of the void he leaves behind, of the end of an era, and reach out to his own family with our sympathy, but I for one am grateful that I heard him, saw him, knew him and shared in the gift that he brought to the world of music.

It only ever took a tiny, three letter word to sum up who he was and what he did. “Vin,” you would say, and straight away, everyone smiled and knew exactly what you meant.

Vin Garbutt died last week aged 69, weeks after undergoing heart surgery. The South Bank-born folk singer's music is celebrated across the globe, and he enjoyed a 50-year career as a musician. His funeral takes place at Middlesbrough Cathedral on Friday, June 16 at 12pm, and he will be laid to rest at Eston Cemetery afterwards. Family members have said anyone touched by Vin, his music or friendship, is welcome to attend.