Revisiting The Miners' Strike in Song
Building a radio ballad
Everything starts with the "life-tellers" - without them there is nothing, whatever the subject - they are the vital source, the inspiration - the true heroes and heroines of the work. Their stories are then cradled in song by a team of songmakers each given specific "chapters" to support, advance and generally deal with.
The privilege the "life-tellers" grant the songmakers is onerous. They must tread very lightly on the lives they are given such unique access to, attempting all the time to thread a fabric in melody and lyric that gives their "chapter" honour, dignity and the truth of their source material.
The Ballad of the Miners Strike
For me and indeed all my colleagues, without exception, this was a serious challenge that threatened all we thought we'd learned by doing the 2006 Radio Ballads series. Although we'd won a brace of Sony Academy Awards this was quite another issue and we needed to re-invent our own rulebook. Of all the programmes we've made together and it was good to see the team reunited, we were now dealing with issues so monumental that the changes they wrought affected the whole of the political and social landscape of the country.
I'm a former journalist and the one thing that disturbed me most then was to make an obituary for a friend. Now as a songmaker I have to write an obituary for an industry that had been a friend - part of the family - a way of life. I witnessed the strike and continue to witness its fall-out - the disintegration of community and all that means, asking all the while if disintegration was in fact a concerted effort to dismantle. The dissolution of coal remains an open wound in former pit villages.
There are those who don't want to talk about it, let it lie, almost like a war - some say it was the last civil war - and there are those who live the strike everyday of their lives.
Well over 40 hours of "life-tellings" needed to be reviewed and distilled to approximately 40 minutes giving space for the songs to bring in the programme at 59 minutes. Hunter gatherer Vince Hunt took responsibility for many of the interviews, folded into "chapters" by Annie Grundy, both under the direction of Executive Producer John Leonard who edited, shaped, integrated the music and song and after many weeks in watchmaker's detail fashioned the final cut. The team of songmakers working alongside Music Producer Andy Seward were Julie Matthews, Jez Lowe, Ray Hearne and myself, with Kay Sutcliffe's magnificent "Coal Not Dole" written at the time of the strike bringing the ballad to a close.
Not an obituary then - more a requiem.
Ballad of the Miners' Strike airs on Radio 2 at 8.30pm on Tuesday 2 March.
Making a Radio Ballad - executive producer John Leonard writes about the programme
Radio 2 - Ballad of the Miners' Strike