Aubrey O'Brien
EFDSS Gold Medal Citation

Aubrey O'Brien was born in 1952, on the eve of St. Patrick's Day, in Langley Park, County Durham, a place well known in TV circles as an authentic pit village – its cobbles, its beautiful trout stream and its two famous sons – Bobby Robson the footballer and more significantly, Aubrey.

Aubrey's future as a pit lad was cut short when his dad, Tommy, big in the NUM at Langley, grabbed him and some friends and took them down the pit. What Aubrey saw and experienced on that day determined that he should pursue a different coalfield career – as a rapper and clog dancer.

At the tender age of just four Aubrey was thrown into the world of traditional dance when he saw his first rapper dance in Lanchester Village Hall. He was fascinated.

Over the years he discovered that his dad had been taught the dance in the late 1920's and early 30's by Nuns at All Saints School in Lanchester.

“It accounts for my state of mind today,” he said recently. “And when I discovered that the local Jolly Boys, based in various clubs and pubs had the rapper at various times as part of their performances. I was really hooked.”

Throughout his teenage years as a scooter driving, Northern Soul mod, Aubrey was always aware of the strong Pit traditions and the music of the Durham coalfield. After a sojourn at Newcastle University where he went along to a few Kingsmen practices; he joined Addison Sword and Clog Dancers. He learned basic North Eastern clog steps before moving on to pick up the Johnson Ellwood steps from Johnson's daughter, Mary Jamieson and from Brenda Walker at Durham.

He competed at the Northumberland and Durham Clog Dancing Championships held in Durham Town Hall and was honourably placed, despite having a small disagreement with the pedestal perched on the five foot high stage.

Aubrey next joined Gosforth Dancers and extended his rapper experience. He later became squire of Addison, based on the Durham side of the Tyne. The Addison dancers were taught by such luminaries as Freddie and Ricky Forster from High Spen, and especially by Jack Atkin, who imparted much of the wisdom of the Winlaton dance, and its variations, to the team. The rapper swords and locks which grace the walls of the O'Brien household in Lanchester were originally part of the Atkin collection, and were used by the Mary and Bessie Youth Club in Winlaton run by Harry Braun, Aubrey's old PE teacher.

Having such a great interest in the local music, Aubrey was part of the Durham folk club scene and became Chairman of the Derwent Walk Folk club and Folk Festival in the early seventies. He later became a founder member of the North East Traditional Music Association. The many contacts which Aubrey established during this period have helped to spread his personal and professional web far from his native Durham.

In 1983, outside Durham Cathedral he first met Phil Heaton who whispered the immortal line, “Giz a lend o' yer frock and Aal Betty for ye.” Their unique partnership has been based on swopping stories, ideas and frocks ever since.

Over the years, many have trekked North in search of Rapper enlightenment and en route, called at the Black Bull in Lanchester. The locals know of many O'Briens in the area but you only have to mention sword dancing and instantly they all know the man and his family. Daughters, Amy and Megan are both step and clog dancers as is Margaret his long suffering other half - who once performed the Winlaton dance dressed as a French maid.

Aubrey has many guises – as raconteur, travelling salesman and rapper ambassador, he has brought a breath of his native North East, served with a large and loud slice of his own philosophy, to an unsuspecting world beyond the coalfields.

The award of the of the EFDSS Gold Badge is a measure of the esteem in which he is held by rapper dancers on several continents. Aubrey carries with him the true essence of the dance, and his teaching all over the world is typified by pride, dignity and unbounded enthusiasm, tempered with precision and control.

His avowed intention is to treat all Southerners as errant children and bamboozle them with homespun yarns, which he explains very slowly, never letting them forget that he is only there to help them in his role as a Geordie missionary.

The late Alan Brown said when describing Geordie pitmen and rapper dancers, “A warm-hearted, outflowing character with a well developed if rather lusty sense of humour; and a man who was not ashamed of enjoying life immensely.” He might well have been speaking of Aubrey O'Brien. The rapper world would indeed be much the poorer without him.