The Pitmen Poets celebrate the songs, humour, and culture of North East England’s Coal Mining tradition, bringing together four of the region’s leading champions of its musical heritage. Ex-Lindisfarne & Jack The Lad singer and writer Billy Mitchell, Song Man from London’s West End musical Warhorse, Bob Fox, leading exponent of Tyneside song Benny Graham, and much-covered BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards nominee songwriter Jez Lowe – individually and collectively, The Pitmen Poets.
This is a journey through the centuries of a once-great industry, from the songs that saw it thrive and dominate, to those that saw its demise and the resulting aftermath.
Now, after two albums and several hugely successful tours, the band prepare to release their farewell album to accompany their twenty-three date farewell tour.
“The audience sang along, laughed and also shared moments of sadness as the combined talents of Billy Mitchell, Jez Lowe, Benny Graham and Bob Fox took them on an epic journey through the life and times of the Northumberland and Durham coalfields. What a great night!” (Brian Coles – Rock of the North).
With every member coming from coal mining stock, this quartet represents the first generation of their families not to take up the tradition of working down the pit.
As Billy Mitchell explains: With every member coming from coal mining stock, they represent the first generation of their families not to take up the tradition of working down the pit. As Billy Mitchell explains:
“Our parents all said ‘you’re not going down the pit, get a good education and do something worthwhile with your lives’….so now we sing songs and tell stories…. about coal mining. It’s quite ironic really but it’s very important to keep the stories we all heard growing up in the form of songs for the next generation.
“Life working in the pit was tough and to reflect that, our songs aren’t all happy tunes as we look at the terrible tragedies that affected whole villages when disaster struck. But there’s also humour too in great doses in our songs as that’s how families got through the bad times.
“We’re playing a lot of former coal mining areas and the songs will resonate with many people there who made their living from coal. Our music and the subject matter will entertain audiences from Berwick in the North, Croydon in the South, East to Canterbury and West to Blackwood in South Wales. We’re all looking forward to going out on our 2019 tour and meeting the public and literally taking our coals from the Newcastle area to the rest of the country.
The Fellside Recording label has been a major force in independent folk music recording for 42 years and has over 600 albums to its credit, many by some very big names in the genre. Now, Paul and Linda Adams have decided to slow down, and though the label remains in business, it will have a lower profile and won’t be taking on new artists. The end of an era, but by no means the end of the story. Destination is a mighty collection of tracks – three CDs worth – specially recorded by some of the many fine artists who’ve been associated with the label, plus some archive material.
The material here covers the spectrum from dance tunes to modern songs by treasured artists like Peter Bellamy (two of his Kipling settings are provided here, one sung by Terry Docherty) and Alex Glasgow, to a wide selection of traditional songs (even the occasional Child ballad). Well over half the tracks here have not been released previously. Given the calibre of the musicians here, that alone has to make it worth buying. There are also a handful of unusual jazz performances from Fellside’s sibling label Lake.
Because of the sheer number of tracks provided here (64!), my usual practice of including a full track listing didn’t seem altogether appropriate. Here are just a few more of the performers and writers who are represented in this collection, which may be enough to persuade you to take a closer look: Jez Lowe, Bram Taylor, Steve Turner, Pete Morton, Bobby Eaglesham, Sara Grey, Alistair Anderson, Paul Metsers, Brian Dewhurst, Bob Davenport…
Here are few tracks that stand out for me personally, but there’s such a wide range of artists here that your personal highlights might be quite different
Maddy Prior’s unaccompanied ‘Sheepcrook And Black Dog’, proving that Steeleye Span maybe always needed her more than she needed them. (Not that I didn’t like the Steeleye version.)
Swan Arcade’s stunning version of Sting’s ‘We Work The Black Seam’.
The much-missed Vin Garbutt singing ‘Boulavogue’.
Hedy West singing ‘Little Sadie’ – as Pete Seeger said when she sang it on his Rainbow Quest series in the ’60s, “That’s the real thing…“
Peggy Seeger’s exquisite ‘Single Girl’ – if my ears don’t fail me, from a 1958 recording with Guy Carawan.
Diz Disley and friends in full Django/Hot Club mode on ‘Shine’.
Marilyn Middleton-Pollock’s version of ‘Melancholy Blues’, recorded long ago by Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodds.
Bob Fox’s version of Alex Glasgow’s ‘Standing At The Door’. A fine performance from someone who’s no mean songwriter himself.
Tom Kitching & Gren Bartley with a blistering performance of ‘Whisky Head’.
But there are too many classy tracks here to list all the ones I can imagine myself listening to for a long time yet.
Buy it. You’ll certainly find enough tracks to make it worth your while.
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I’m guessing that A Garland For Joey is an album that Bob Fox has wanted to make for a long time. Many fine musicians have taken on the role of Songman but Bob has the gravitas to take the part from that of the provider of incidental music to the play’s narrator.
Subtitled The War Horse Songbook, the record is described as a re-telling and it is certainly a reinvention. Bob puts aside the melodeon that he was compelled to learn for the stage and mostly returns to the guitar providing some big arrangement. He is supported on three tracks by the Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band and on one by Sam Fisher’s cornet. The garland on the cover and the opening song ‘Snow Falls’ gives the record a Christmassy feel which is reinforced by ‘The Devonshire Carol’ or, at least its title, which both closes the songbook and leads into the first song of the postscript, ‘The Cherry Cheeked Optimists (Part One)’. The second part of the song is anything but optimistic, of course, and it sets the scene for ‘Scarecrow’ which closes the album. Given that the original version pre-dated the premiere of War Horse by some thirty years it was a remarkably prescient piece of writing by John Tams.
Religion was a much more important aspect of life a century ago but ‘Only Remembered’ has transcended time and faith to replace ‘The Parting Glass’ as the farewell song of choice. ‘Rolling Home’ is an expression of Tams’ socialist manifesto and is an uplifting mirror image of the bleak ‘Scarecrow’ but both mark the beginning of the end of deference to our “betters”. The traditional ‘Scarlet And The Blue’ is the jolliest song on the record with a jaunty tune matching an optimistic lyric, contrasting with the sombre ‘Stand To’ which follows it – another quasi-religious song – and Tams also borrows the carol ‘Lullee Lullay’ while maintaining its original form as a lullaby.
Hearing these songs sung in full and in sequence tells the story, not necessarily of Joey, but of the war itself and stand alone without the magnificent puppets and the action on stage. A Garland For Joey will be on a good many Christmas lists this year.
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FEATURING COLLABORATIONS WITH THE CREAM OF ROCK, FOLK & BLUEGRASS ARTISTS INCLUDING PAUL WELLER, RICHARD THOMPSON, NIC JONES, DICK GAUGHAN, PHIL SELWAY, MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER, CHRIS THILE, EDDI READER AND MORE…
The Barnsley nightingale Kate Rusby has released a new album to celebrate 20 years of making music. Entitled ‘20’ the album features new recordings of Kate’s favourite songs from throughout her illustrious career.
From the trad folk of ‘Jolly Plough Boys’ and ‘Annan Waters’ from her solo debut ‘Hourglass’ (’98) to the seasonal beauty of ‘Home’ from her 2011 Christmas album ‘While Mortals Sleep’ via ‘Unquiet Grave’, ‘Sho Heen’ and ‘Wild Goose’ from her Mercury nominated ’99 album ‘Sleepless’, the title tracks from ‘Underneath The Stars’ (2004) and ‘Awkward Annie’ (2007) and many more, Kate dips into every corner of her catalogue to create a set that is a wonderful introduction for the uninitiated and a fabulous reinterpretation of her ‘greatest hits’ for the committed fan. In addition Kate has written and recorded a beautiful new song for this album called ‘Sun Grazers’, on which she duets with Paul Weller, who has never sounded in finer voice. Other collaborators on the album include folk giants Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Paul Brady and Dick Gaughan, Radiohead drummer Phil Selway, bluegrass upstarts Chris Thile and Sarah Jarosz, American folk & country singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eddi Reader and many more.
‘20’ has been released on the Rusby family’s Pure Records label via Island Records. For this release Island has resurrected the legendary ‘Island Pink’ label on which albums by Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Sandy Denny, and Richard & Linda Thompson were released during the 70s.
‘20’ is available on double CD and digital download from the folking store link below. The full tracklisting is:
1. Awkward Annie (feat. Chris Thile)
2. Unquiet Grave (feat. Aoife O’Donovan)
3. Sun Grazers (feat. Paul Weller)
4. The Lark (feat. Nic Jones)
5. Planets (feat. Sarah Jarosz)
6. Wandering Soul (feat. Eddi Reader & Dick Gaughan)
7. Who Will Sing me Lullabies (feat. Richard Thompson & Philip Selway)
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Words and music on all songs are by Kate Rusby except ‘Jolly Plough Boys’ and ‘Annan Waters’, which are traditional songs arranged by Kate, ‘The Good Man’ whose words are a combination of trad and Kate with the tune written by Kate, and ‘Bring Me A Boat’, which has lyrics by Kate and melody by Phil Cunningham.
Kate Rusby was born into a musical family in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Her parents had a ceilidh band which Kate and her sister Emma joined at a very early age. Kate’s musical world is still very much a family affair – her parents, along with Emma and her brother Joe manage her, run her label, record her albums and book her tours, while her husband Damien O’Kane co-produces her records and plays guitar in her band. Kate’s first album release was a collaboration with another young singer – ‘Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts’ (’95). She has since released 9 solo albums: ‘Hourglass’ (’98), ‘Sleepless’ (’99), ‘Little Lights’ (2001), ‘Underneath The Stars’ (2004), ‘The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly’ (2005), ‘Awkward Annie’ (2007), ‘Sweet Bells’ (2008), ‘Make The Light’ (2010), and ‘While Mortals Sleep’ (2011). She was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in ’99 and has won Folk singer of the year (2000), Best album (2000), Best song twice (2002 for “Who Will Sing Me Lullabies” and 2006 for “No Names”) and Best Live Act (2006) at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Proof that the cottage industry approach can pay off in the 21st century, Kate has quietly sold over a million records on the family-run independent label Pure Records and regularly plays sell-out tours around the country.
You have to admit that, when you take the money into account, Butlins’ 2011 Great British Folk Festival was good value. We enjoyed Bob Fox, Steve Tilston, P. J. Wright, Dave Pegg, Anthony John Clarke, Chumbawamba, Jane Taylor, Seth Lakeman & Richard Digance particularly, and probably Ralph McTell had we not been elsewhere. You can’t see everything, and switching venues may mean no seat at the 2nd one, big though the venues were. We thought that Matthews Southern Comfort, with his constant harping on about his hit in 1970 (we’d never heard of him) was a pain and that Steve Gibbons (apparently drunk or stoned, forgetting words) was a disgrace. Several rock bands bands had no apparent connection to folk (one had a bloke play a mandolin on one number – does that count?).
Queueing outside in the cold for 40 mins once to get a seat wasn’t fun. The choice of one ceilidh at least (there was an unused ballroom) would have been nice. You would have plenty to gripe about if you had been expecting a “conventional” folk festival, as there were no sessions, workshops, dancing of any kind or ‘meet the band’ events.
However, the four of us had a Gold 3 bedroomed apartment for 3 nights and nowt to pay to get in to all the concerts for a total, incl, insurancewe didn’t need, of £59 a head – a couple of nights in a Premier Inn without any concerts! We expected the beer & food to be pricey but were pleasantly surprised – and there was real ale and other non-musical attractions if ya liked.
The sound crews got booed twice that I heard – delays of 35/45 minutes between acts and artistes still gesticulating about their sound half way through the sets is amateur. Digance gave them some stick in an amusing way.