Durham Town — Roger Whittaker

No Words, No Song
5 min readOct 14, 2022
Photo by David Ross on Unsplash

Roger Whittaker’s “Durham Town” achieves a rare feat — it makes you nostalgic for a place you’ve never visited.

At any rate, I hadn’t visited it when I first heard “Durham Town” on the radio many years ago. I have been there since and it’s a beautiful city in the north-east of England with one of the world’s finest cathedrals, and one of its most eminent universities, among its many attractions.

But hearing “Durham Town” on the car radio while my dad drove us to school some time in the 1970s, I instantly felt nostalgic for a place I had never visited and sentimental for a time long before I was born.

As it happens, “Durham Town” isn’t about the city of Durham, particularly. The song is more about the people and experiences the singer remembers from his time there…

Back in nineteen forty-four
I remember Daddy walking out the door
Mama told me he was going to war, he was leaving
Leaving, leaving, leaving, leaving me

Reading this today, 1944 seems like a very long time ago. But in 1969, when “Durham Town” was released, it was only 25 years previously.

In 1969, most adults would still remember the war years themselves, and would have heard plenty of first-hand stories about fathers, grandfathers, brothers and cousins who had gone to war…many of them sadly never to return.

That undoubtedly helped “Durham Town” do so well in the UK singles charts, ultimately reaching a high of Number 12 in early 1970.

Roger Whittaker had a very distinctive deep voice and his songs really stood out on pop music radio in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

He always seemed to bring a great sense dignity to his singing. In the midst of the “look at me!” culture of glam rock, Roger Whittaker had a quiet, understated persona and a singing style which stood out purely because, in a funny way, he didn’t try to stand out.

His songs were simple songs too. I don’t mean that disrespectfully, just that Roger Whittaker designed his songs to be sung by a single person with just a guitar for company.

Although his records have some production on them, it’s very much an added extra. You could perform any of Roger Whittaker’s songs by yourself while strumming on a…

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No Words, No Song

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.