Songs & Rhymes From The Mines (an East Midlands View)
Trent Editions/Nottingham Trent University
A Glorious and Heartbreaking Collection of Coal Mining Stories, Songs and Poems.
I had big plans for today, and started off so well until this mysterious package arrived. To those who don’t know me very well wouldn’t understand why a book of poetry and local industrial history from a region in England quite alien to me, and it’s accompanying CD of Folk Songs (several are the finger in the ear variety) would
a) interest me
b) reduce me to tears several times
c) make me as proud as Punch!
Well, dear reader I come from three generations of Coal Mining stock dating back to the turn of the 20th Century and my own Father working down our village pit for nigh on 40 years, only disrupted by his time serving in the Navy during WWII; plus two brothers who also spent their best years hewing coal too.
This project is part of Nottingham Trent University’s project to keep their local dialect alive while teaching schoolchildren of their heritage too.
The CD is a complex mix of short stories, poems and old and relatively new songs about Coal Mining; with a couple already in my collection, from The Most Ugly Child, who’s intricate and beautiful My Pony which opens the CD, through my mate Al’s DH Lawrence Vaudeville Show ‘kitchen sink drama’ Sons and Lovers and the mighty Misk Hills Rambler III’s sadder than sad The Dance of the Miner and the powerful history lesson of When Coal Was King.
There are plenty of songs here that tell very local stories from the East Midlands; but if you come from a similar community in NE England or the West Coast of Scotland or anyway in Wales; or even North America, Australia, Holland or Germany you can tape over the village in the song and replace it with your own on Bill Kerry’s anthemic Folk Song The Greatest Loscoe Miner and the sorrowful Annesley Headstocks sung by the King of Rome (who I must search out more from).
The King of Rome turns up again with Tiny Giant, which reminded me so much of my own father’s story and alongside the haunting ballad The Deaths of Child Miners sung a’ Capella by Bill Kerry both had me blubbing as I listened while reading poems from the book.
Choosing a Favourite Song isn’t fair on the others here; but choose one I must. It could easily have been Terry Faulkner’s heartbreaking and unaccompanied Working Man and perhaps should have been the beautiful Cob a’ Coalin’ by Jennifer Reid (trad. with additional lyrics by the Heyman Primary School) but with a deep breath I’m picking…….. John Stafford’s Mine Eyes; because it reminded me so much of the men my Dad sat and drank with in the Legion on a weekend; and yet again brought me to tears the first two times I played it.
I’ve flicked through the book; and need more time to really devour everything here; but several poems tugged on my heartstrings like dead weights…… especially Mina Ahmed’s Because Nothing Comes Close, which is on the very first page and you can’t help getting a lump in your throat too reading Barry Harper’s Father of Mine, or especially the poignant The Striker’s Wife (1984).
Perhaps the biggest (and best) surprise is reading the names of the people who wrote the poems. Several are actually ex-miners who had never previously been involved in anything like this but found great solace in putting their words onto paper and having strangers; educated ones at that telling them how good the work is. But; there are many family names here who obviously never worked down a pit, especially later Mina Ahmed (again) with her intricate and intuitive My Tiny Hands at Work and if I had to pick a Favourite Poem it would have to be The Bevin Boy by Sandhya Sharma; a wonderful tale of a 9 year old questioning a 92 year old about why people call him The Bevin Boy.
Read it and weep!
There are photos a’plenty too and some charming drawings from the children at Heymann Primary which will bring a smile to your face as they did mine.
SONGS AND RHYMES will always have a special place in my heart and my collection; and I hope that someone will do a similar exercise in County Durham and Northumberland; but in fairness everyone has done such a quality job here…. it may not actually be necessary.
Released November 2018