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Revisiting The Miners' Strike in Song

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John Tams | 15:56 UK time, Friday, 26 February 2010

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.


Striking miners, 1984

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.

Related Posts
Making a Radio Ballad - executive producer John Leonard writes about the programme

Related Links
Radio 2 - Ballad of the Miners' Strike


  • Comment number 1.

    I have just listened (on listen again) to the inspirational programme 'Ballad of the MIner's Strike'.

    I would like to say how much I enjoyed it and the skillful way it took the listener from the optimistic (but doomed) start to the proud (but humiliating) end of the strike. The interviews were illuminating and uplifting - how much more noble were our miners then than today's nobility such as Lord Ashcroft or Sir Fred Goodwin.

    Is there any chance of the programme being issued as a podcast or as part of a new CD?

  • Comment number 2.

    I too would welcome a copy to listen to again. I remember it all too well. Thanks for an excellent programme.

  • Comment number 3.

    I listened to the programme Revisiting the Miners Strike, with great interest as I was a Community Worker in the Dearne Valley in the aftermath of the strike. I saw at first hand the poverty and social problems which resulted in the pit closures. Will there be a CD issued like the other Radio Ballads?

  • Comment number 4.

    Due to computer problems there has been some passing of time between accessing this Blog & having listened to Ballard of The Miners' Strike . I was 15 at the time of The Miners Strike , old enough to get involved , old enough to show compassion . Yet to my emense regret I did nothing , despite my Fathers strong Socialist views & strong commitment to the Union & fellow workers . We shared a passionate dislike of Margaret Thatcher & outrage at what she was doing to the Miners but I seemed more influenced by the television coverage of the day & am now ashamed to say questioned the strikers not providing for their children . I didn't know , I didn't understand . Listening to the Ballard of The Miners' Strike , which I was drawn to do from listening to one of the heart wrenching songs on Mike Hardings show joined for my own desire for more sharing & where appropriate celebration of our folk history , I was honestly moved to tears . Every time I listen to what happened to those men in Nottingham I am enraged a new & again the tears come . I witnessed the bruttality of the police under Margaret Thatcher at the Anti Poll Tax March in London , which in comparrison was much less horrific . It was still the most frightening thing I have experienced in my life , a fear that stopped me returning to London to demonstrate again until the current Governments decision to go to War . A misstrust of the Police was born at these times to a generation of young people who still carry & pass on that misstrust today .

    Thank You so much to all those involved in the making of the Ballards of the Miners' Strike . The Brave , Courageous people who shared their memories & their passion ; The musicians & performers who created such thoughtfull & moving records of our modern history ; and the producers who put it together so tenderly to convey such power .

    I am very pleased to see that Radio 2 have renewed the availability of this important piece of work on Listen Again and I repeat the hope that the Ballards of the Miners' Strike will be released for purchase . This important piece of history must not be forgotten , in it's truth . Not only do I wish to have this record of history & the beautifull songs that accompany it for my own reveiwing but I would like to have it for my son to listen to when he is old enough to understand ( he is 3 at present ! ) . I hope that there are insightfull teachers out there that are able to use this programme in the teaching of our modern history in secondary schools , colleges , universities & community groups .


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