Poems by Mike Duff

Mike Duff is best known for his novels Low Life and The Hat Check Boy. His poem, ‘In the Rain’, won the BBC Poem for Manchester competition in 2004. Mike’s collection Of a Mancunian contains more than a hundred previously unpublished poems – including ‘King of the Scuttlers’, reproduced below. This review by Mark C. first appeared in Red Issue fanzine in September 2008:


Of a Mancunian by Mike Duff


“It’s a complex mix of wit and ingenuity, some passages are like a bare fist fight after which you feel emotionally drained and skin scrapped to the bone, near the knuckle? You bet.”


I wrote the above after my first read of this collection of poems and to be honest nothing has changed after my second, third and in some cases numerous re-readings of certain poems. Every emotional string gets plucked, tugged or snapped in two, but you don’t just get poetry with this book you get a thick multi layered slab of Manchester cake and all the ingredients are laid bare, including an entertaining look at Mancunian legend Nancy “dickybird” Cunningham and how she could clear the toughest vaults in Collyhurst. There is also a sad indictment of how the people in suits have forgotten the First World War dead followed by the poignant ”a poppy blooms in Blackley” dedicated to Private John Brighton of the Regiment that became known as the Manchester Scottish. Sandwiched in between all this is a selection of sometimes hilarious, sometimes shocking but always insightful work by Barry Newroad aka “The Bard of Blackley” who took his own life aged 19.


The book is probably not something to read cover to cover but to dip into from time to time when you need to be upset, challenged, cheered up, beat or warmed or all in the space of 5 verses. There are many references to the areas some call the heartlands of Manchester – North and East central, especially “The Plattin’ an’ the Heath” almost to the point of repetition but it acts as a reminder of what these poems are about; life as a Mancunian.


“Death of a murdered workin’ girl”

Is an observation on the judging masses and how quick society is to condemn people for the lives that they lead or have led without thinking of the people left behind;


An when they bury that woman

present will be a kid so cute

listenin to her mother

be described as a prostitute


There are moments of sharp humour with that unmistakeable Manchester sarcasm such as


oh wot a Bastard, oh wot a drag

I lost the wife at 3 card brag


“Dingoes in the Plattin’” tells the story of child abduction by antipodean canines that roam round Wilson’s brewery and “Jesus watches while I wank” is a short, sharp, funny look at what flashes through people’s minds at the strangest times.


Also in one of Newroad’s contributions (though he doesn’t know it) “song of a lottery winner” sticks two fingers up at the “not in my back yard” brigade, culminating in;


an if yer a posh bastard

a bet yer shittin bricks

I’m moving next door to yer

cos I’ve got the fuckin six


There is also an intriguing insight into “The Scuttlers” who were gangs of young men who fought on the streets of Manchester and Salford in the late 1800s, often with fatal consequences, so next time someone tells you the youth of today are more violent than ever, tell them look up the story of the Scuttlers, different uniform same outcome. The poem the “King of the Scuttlers” starts off with “He was born in a slum down on angel meadow” and goes on to recount the story of one of the most notorious scuttlers, Patrick “Parkey” Grant.


The collection contains a section called “Free the Blackley One (Herbert Prefabs is innocent)”. A neatly laid out selection of fifteen poems, six verses each, four lines per verse, mostly laugh out loud funny telling the serious story of a wrongly convicted man – the alter ego of Duff;


they arrested me an led me shameful

an the evidence means I will get life

but how can I tell the truth when

I was in bed with my best mate’s wife?


This is only a review of a collection of poems by someone I don’t know so what I write is just a personal interpretation. Amongst all the angst, humour and sharply observed oddities in life there is an underlying mischievousness tinged with melancholy. Some of the works drag you down to despair, touching on subjects such as addiction and violence in the home. Selfishly I have saved my last comment for my favourite poem in the collection because from the depths of despair Duff lifts you up with the beautiful “Sometimes when it snows (for Kerry Duff aged 7)” a poem that bursts with love, pride and adoration that only a parent knows.


Get the book you won’t be disappointed.

Mark C.


You can buy Of a Mancunian for £5.00 plus postage from stewood@tripsonglue.co.uk



‘King of the Scuttlers’ was inspired by the story of two Angel Meadow scuttlers, William Murphy and Patrick Grant, who fought their way out of Salford one Saturday night after a clash with the McElroy mob in Greengate. The story is told in chapter ten of The Gangs of Manchester.





he was born in a slum down on angel meadow

grew up wild with even wilder oats to sow

an in each street an in every back yard

he had to prove himself tuff an prove himself hard

with his belts an chains, his knuckles an his chivs

gonna be a scuttler for just as long as he lives

just as long as he lives


an he joined in every fight an he led the line

never worried about police or about doin time

from st michael’s flags all the way to hanky park

he’d knock them down an he’d leave his mark

the king of the scuttlers with his scarred up face

a cauliflower ear an a nose that’s outta place

a nose that’s outta place


a bengal tiger to the left

an salford to his right

a fella from aldelphi

screamin for a fight

with his belt round his knuckles

his hat pulled down

he’s king of the scuttlers

the hardest man in town


one day in gould street he put on the captain’s band

went after the bungall boys in a way they’d understand

he laid out their leader with a buckle to the eye

took a chiv in the chest thought he was gonna die

he staggered to ancoats in his blood soaked clothes

seen the police arrive an he took it on his toes

he took it on his toes


the bungall boys were drinkin on london road

the captain’s eye was patched the pain it showed

the king of the scuttlers with his wound stitched neat

walked in laffin an said “come out on that street”

the captain he fled an the bungall boys lost face

an his reputation as top boy was cemented in place

it was cemented in place


a bengal tiger to his left

an salford to his right

a fella from the plattin

shoutin for a fight

with his belt round his knuckles

an his hat pulled down

he’s king of the scuttlers

the hardest lad in town


on the steets of manchester his name got known

fight after fight well he won them on his own

the girls they loved him, in the meadow revered

walkin down rochdale road an everybody cheered

one night against adelphi an his belt took four

when he got through it was a blood covered floor

the blood it covered the floor


the police needed witnesses but nobody dared

salford an the heath an ancoats runnin scared

the mc elroy mob would flinch at his name

where ever there was a scuttle he got the blame

but fate it was against him an a bolt from above

he met a factory girl an then he fell in love

the scuttler fell in love


a bengal tiger to his left

an salford to his right

a fella from fairfield

ready for a fight

with his belt round his knuckles

an his hat pulled down

he’s the king of the scuttlers

the hardest lad in town


well she was an irish girl from cheetham hill

who worked in the card room at murray’s mill

he was head over heels an he wanted no other

put on his sunday best an went to meet her mother

but she was a catholic who had seen the light

she told the scuttler that he must never fight

the scuttler must never fight


walkin home by red bank lost in his dreams

he heard a fight an a young man’s screams

the lad was from the meadow so he went to his aid

stood over the lad’s body on the cobbles it laid

lifted his belt heard the words of his would be wife

an froze in his tracks an was killed by a knife

he was killed by a knife


bengal tiger to his left

an salford to his right

as they carried his coffin

nobody wantin a fight

with his belt round his knuckles

an his hat still on

he was king of the scuttlers

but now he is gone



Mike Duff,

3 November 2007


You can read an interview with Mike here. Finally for now, here’s Mark C’s favourite poem from Of a Mancunian


sometimes when it snows

(for kerry duff aged seven)


sometimes when it snows

i think of you

an you got a boyfriend

that nobody knows

an little black boots

an ten warm toes

an a doll that cries

an beautiful bows

an lovely pigtails

an cheeks like a rose

an eyes so green

an hair that glows

an white ankle socks

an pinky clothes

an dirty knees

an a little madam’s pose

an a furrowed brow

an all the world’s woes

sometimes when it snows

just sometimes when it snows



2 March 2009:


(some time captain of the meadow lads)

owen “owny” callaghan
with his face scarred mean
workin fifty odd hour weeks
loadin up a cardin machine
the pride of the meadow
just a child of the night
lost to john joe brady
in a twenty shillin fight
callaghan took it to heart
cos you gotta understand
their can’t be no second fiddle
when you wear the captain’s band

he never feared the adelphi
or the tigers this is true
he took on the bungall boys
an all the deansgate crew
dint know how to walk away
had to stand his ground
a chip off the old block
an as sound as a pound
he fought them all gamely
with his belt round his hand
cos there aint no second fiddle
when you wear the captain’s band

the night it blew crazy
an blood was in the air
screams an cries of neighbours
an scuttlers everywhere
owen went after brady
stabbed him to his death
laffed at the dyin man
as he breathed his last breath
the meadow never mourned
owen had made his stand
cos there aint no second fiddle
when you wear the captain’s band

owen “owny” callaghan
wanted on a murder charge
the posters in the city sayin
“this man still at large”
they cornered him in bradford
an they put him in a dock
“twenty years’ penal servitude”
he nearly died of the shock
he came out insane an beaten
no longer in demand
but you can’t be second fiddle
when you wear the captain’s band

Mike Duff, February 2009


  1. These poems really hit you…….right between the eyes, and yes, in the heart too.
    Thank you for sharing them.

  2. Very very good. Love it.

  3. I will put KING OF THE SCUTTLERS to music tonight…(check myspace in the very near future)

  4. Could you tell me where or how I can get hold of a copy of this book? I’ve tried both versions of the e-mail address (mikeduff.co.uk and sales@mikeduff.co.uk) but with no luck.

    Hope you can help.

    Many thanks

    Steve Nash

  5. Hello Steve, the remaining copies are held by a lad called Mark in Manchester. I’ll ask him to email you direct to sort something out. If anyone else is interested in a copy of “Of a Mancunian” get in touch and I’ll do likewise. Cheers,

  6. Hi, Could you send me details of where or how I can get hold of a copy of the book, ‘Of A Mancunian’.

  7. Could you tell me where and how I can get a copy of the book Of A Mancunian

  8. Hello
    I’d really like to buy a copy of these poems. Please put me in touch with someone I can buy them from.
    Many Thanks

  9. Hi Laura, you can get a copy of Mike’s book of poems from Mark O’Rourke. Please send him an email at: mark@fcumbury.com

    If you don’t hear back from him within a week or so, let me know. Cheers,

  10. The man is one of many a heart-beating true manc, who sees it as it is, in his blood, in his soul.

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