November 2021 update: I set myself the task of republishing the seven-part series on Music from North Eastern England and have one or two instalments to go, including an item that I posted as the start of a ‘second season’. I’m deeply grateful to all those who have popped in for a look and/or a listen …
Coalmining features prominently in this series on music from my region, the North East of England.
Mining produces work and great camaraderie as well as tragedy, exploitation and ill-health. It also yields wonderful music and art, and the North East has been prominent in that respect.
As a young reporter, I lost count of the number of inquests I attended where the issue was to establish pneumoconiosis - cold-dust disease - as the cause of death, therefore entitling the poor widow to an enhanced pension.
See footnote for an explanation of this photo from the Durham Miners' Gala
Johnny Handle has for decades been an outstanding fixture of the North-eastern folk scene with his authoritative knowledge of mining, an evocative way with words and his pioneering of the Geordie/pitmatic humour that enthralled audiences well beyond the region.
Here is one of his most poignant songs, Farewell to the Monty.
The first line - "for many long years now the pit's done its best" - reveals the subject matter, the closure of the Montagu pit on Tyneside.
Again as a young reporter, I was allowed to accompany miners descending in the cage (not at the Monty) to see out one last shift before their pit closed.
It was almost beyond belief that human beings should choose to work in such surroundings and, to a man, those I interviewed were adamant that no son of theirs should ever follow in their footsteps. There were, in those days, other jobs to go to.
ALL ITEMS IN THIS SERIES CAN BE SEEN AT THE FOLLOWING LINK: https://www.salutlive.com/music-from-north-eastern-england/
One last treat before tomorrow's non-Christmas Christmas edition of the series.
Bob Fox sings Jimmy Nail's quite moving (for a Mag) Big River, a song dealing with the decline of both coal and shipbuilding, preceded by the North-eastern equivalent of Carrickfergus, The Waters of Tyne.
Bill Taylor explains the Durham Big Meeting photo:
Flashback for no other reason than my old friend Dave Bowman (the clean-cut one on the right) popped up on Salut! Live and mentioned this photo.
It was taken in July, 1972, at Durham Miners Gala (always pronounced "gayla" and otherwise known as the Big Meeting) a huge annual labour festival (no left-wing politician worth his or her salt would dare miss it) that shuts down the city for the day and is the subject of at least two excellent songs.
The four of us used to work together ~ Mike Smith, me, Alan Sims and Dave. We're sitting in the middle of one of the main streets drinking beer. Later, Alan had to be talked out of (actually we were trying to talk him into it) jumping off a bridge into the River Wear.
I was best man at Dave's wedding but lost touch with him at least 30 years ago. He's an ardent Scottish nationalist (internationalist, says Dave - Ed).
He mentions that 2021 will be the 150th anniversary of the Big Meeting and wonders a) if it'll be able to go ahead; and b) if a reunion might be possible.
We might be a bit creaky getting down onto the road and back up again, we probably can't put away as much beer, and I'm not sure if Alan would be able to climb up on the bridge parapet. But it's something to think about...