WHO would have guessed that Jimmy Nail would one day find himself in a definitive anthology of the poetry of the North-East?

Or Sting and Mark Knopfler come to that. Yet here they are, sharing chapter space with the likes of W.H. Auden and Tony Harrison; Algernon Charles Swinburne and U.A. Fanthorpe.

And why not? As Neil Astley, founder of Bloodaxe Books and editor of this fascinating tome says: "People know these songs and I think there's a continuity between these musicians chronicling the North East - and particularly their childhood memories - and the earlier writers and song writers."

This eclectic mix of old and new, poets and lyricists is what makes 'Land of Three Rivers' such a vibrant record of the rhythm of our region.

The title is taken from a song by Teesside folk musician, Vin Garbutt who sadly died in June this year.

"I was in touch with him and he was delighted that his song had given this book its title," Neil says.

Indeed he was being lined up to perform it at the Sage this evening at Kathryn Tickell's second Magnetic North East concert where the anthology is being officially launched.

"Kathryn was very helpful she had heard that I was wanting do this book a few years back and was urging me to bring it out because she wanted to do a tie in with Magnetic North East," Neil adds.

It's expected there'll be performances of some of the traditional Tyneside songs - such as The Water of Tyne and the Blaydon Races, both of which feature in the book.

The biggest challenge for Neil was sifting through the vast treasury of material he knew about and also tracking some of it down. "Knowing that there was so much out there and it's never been put together in one book before was the biggest challenge.

"Also the fact that the North East tradition of poetry up til the 20th century was really an oral tradition. There was really very little quality literary poetry written, partly because of socio-economic factors - it wasn't an area that was conducive to literature. But there were, over that period, some distinguished writers, people like Mark Akenside who lived in Newcastle and eventually became the Queen's doctor when George III took to the throne in 1760."

Nuggets such as these makes this collection a really interesting look at the social history of the region and he found the work of the late Alan Myers, who had put together pen portaits of the region's poets, very helpful - in fact it is Myers' historical notes that weave through the anthology.

For his part, Neil has 'mapped' the poems so that they're grouped under different areas and Tynedale and the Borders are well-represented.

Several poems by the late Hexham poet, Wilfrid Gibson are included, amongst them - 'In Hexham Abbey' and the haunting 'Fallowfield Fell', written in 1920 about a soldier lying on the battlefield and picturing home.

A surprising and intriguing element is the number of W.H. Auden poems, written around Tynedale and Weardale.

"There's only one of those poems that is in his Collected Poems and that's the Water Shed but the others he never republished because he regarded them as not good enough, but in terms of the area, they're very revealing." The book reveals how the distinguished poet kept an OS map of the North on the wall everywhere he lived throughout his life and wrote to a friend: "My great good place is the part of the Pennines bounded on the South by Swaledale, on the North by the Roman Wall and on the West by the Eden Valley."

Neil has grouped some poems together for maximum effect. For example a well-known poem by Joseph Skipsey from 1862 about a pit disaster, The Hartley Calamity, is juxtaposed with a poem Neil knew about from references to it, but had to use his detective work to find.

Written by James Henry from Ireland four years after Skipsey's, it is called 'Two hundred men and eighteen killed...' and is much more polemical:

"Two hundred men and eighteen killed/For want of a second door!/Ay, for with two doors, each ton coal, Had cost one penny more."

"The James Henry poem had been privately published and it remained unknown until 2002. Whereas Skipsey goes for the heart strings, James goes for the jugular, attacking the mine owners for not providing a second escape route for the miners. It's a very sarcastic, political poem written now but not known about until now," Neil says.

In some cases Neil had to approach estates for permission.

He explains: "Francis Scarfe lived in South Shields in the thirties at the same time as James Kirkup, another well known poet from the region. Neither knew one another but by contacting Scarfe's estate to try and get permission to use some of his poems and trying to track down a poem i knew existed but hadn't been published anywhere I found he had written a poem called The Knocker Up - the man who used to go around with a long pole banging on miners' windows as a kind of alarm clock.

"James Kirkup had also written a poem called the Knocker Up, quite possibly both were recalling the same period and quite possibly independently writing about the same guy.

"Scarfe's best known poem is Tyne Dock, written in the 1940s but I knew there was another called Tyne Dock Revisited that had never been published."

Neil managed to track down his son, now living in Spain and got the copy of the unpublished poem and the Knocker Up as well. "That was a nice little discovery to me," Neil smiles.

This collection, Neil acknowledges, would have been a wonderful launch for Hexham-based Bloodaxe's fortieth birthday next year - but he appears to have jumped the gun on that one. However, there are plans in the pipeline for other celebrations in 2018.

* Land of Three Rivers is published at £14.99 and is available from Cogito, Hexham.