New musical celebrates Sunderland's Eric Boswell, the unsung songwriter behind Little Donkey

The new musical celebrates the unsung songwriter behind a Christmas classic.
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A new musical celebrating the life of Millfield-born Eric Boswell who found fame with his worldwide Christmas hit Little Donkey will tour the North East in Spring 2024.

Sunderland songwriter Eric BoswellSunderland songwriter Eric Boswell
Sunderland songwriter Eric Boswell

The Donkey, The Whippet and the Giant Leek will be performed by his friends, international opera stars Graeme Danby and Valerie Reid, with Sunderland dates at The Fire Station and 17Nineteen in the East End.

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The show features more than 20 of Boswell’s hits and compositions including ballads and comic songs from his North East Songbook.

The production – written and devised by Tom Kelly and Graeme Thompson – charts Boswell’s life and career from his early days in Sunderland to his final years in Northumberland where he died in 2009 aged 88.

Valerie Reid and Graeme DanbyValerie Reid and Graeme Danby
Valerie Reid and Graeme Danby

Eric, who also worked full time as a physics lecturer at Sunderland Technical College, which became Sunderland University, enjoyed great commercial success in the 1950s and 60s writing for stars including Matt Munro, Ricky Valance and Gracie Fields.

Fields took Little Donkey to the top of the charts in 1959 and it was a hit for many other artists around the world as well as becoming a fixture in school nativity plays and carol concerts.

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But Boswell always believed his best work was to be found in his songs about the changing face of the North East in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

Songs including The Whippet, The Ghost of St Mary’s, Maybe This is Love, The Summer of Last Year and The Great Longbenton Leek are featured in the new show – a labour of love for singers Graeme Danby and Valerie Reid.

“We got to know Eric towards the end of his life when we were recording his songs,” said Graeme, who is much in demand around the world for his rich bass voice.

“I’m from Consett so I loved the fact he was writing these wonderful songs about life in this part of the country. He had a unique way of capturing the dialect, character and landscape of the North East - and his melodies are just gorgeous.”

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Valerie added: “We were privileged that he wrote a song for our wedding. Maybe This is Love is about a Scottish lass meeting and marrying a Geordie lad – which is exactly our story. And we can’t wait to perform it along with so many of Eric’s other songs.”

Tour dates

April 6: the Phoenix, Blyth

April 11: The Fire Station, Sunderland

April 13: Ponteland Methodist Church

April 23: Queens Hall, Hexham

April 26: Bishop Auckland Town Hall

April 27: Alnwick Playhouse

May 4: 17Nineteen, Sunderland

May 12: Customs House, South Shields

Other dates and venues will be added.

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