Music Monday: The Bells of Rhymney

The Bells of Rhymney is based on a poem by Welsh coal miner and author Idris Davies. American folk singer Pete Seeger turned the poem, originally titled Gwalia Deserta, into a song. Davis wrote that the poem was inspired by two major events in the Welsh coalfields: The Senghenydd disaster, and the 1926 general strike. The lyrics highlight the difficult and dangerous conditions that faced Welsh miners during the early twentieth century. The Byrds made the song into a folk rock hit in 1965. Scroll down to compare their version with the original version from Pete Seeger and a version from The Alarm, a group from Wales during the 1980s The Byrds: Pete Seeger: The Alarm:

Music Monday: Fire in the Hole

Fire in the Hole sounds like a traditional union anthem, but the song was written by filmmaker John Sayles and composer Mason Daring for the film Matewan (1987). West Virginia musician Hazel Dickens performed the song for the movie. Recently, Kentucky songwriter Brett Ratliff adapted the song to reflect present day struggles for working people. Here are video clips of two impressive versions of this vibrant song: Hazel Dickens: Brett Ratliff:

Tunes Tuesday: Blackleg Miner

Blackleg Miner is a traditional song from the northeast of England. Most folklorists trace the songs’ origin to nineteenth century labor battles. More recently, the song was performed to support the National Union of Mineworkers during their historic 1984-1985 strike. The video clip below features miners’ wife Lynn Dennett performing her version for the 1990 documentary From The Shadows of Power, directed by Jean Donohue. An excerpt of her song was included in soundtrack of the After Coal documentary, and the lyrics appear in the After Coal book. Scroll down for other versions of this traditional song performed by Richard Thompson as well as The Decembrists. Black Leg Miner from AfterCoal on Vimeo. Richard Thompson Offa Rex (members of The Decemberists)

Music Monday: When Coal Was King

This song is part of the soundtrack of the After Coal documentary. It is an original tune from Foddershock, a self described “dysfunctional folk rock band” from Dickenson County, Virginia — where coal was king for most of the twentieth century. When Coal Was King is a nostalgic look back at the 1970s coal boom, when thousands of union miners worked in southwest Virginia. This music video was recorded live at Wiley’s Last Resort on top of Pine Mountain in Letcher County, Kentucky on July 20, 2014. When Coal Was King from Tom Hansell on Vimeo.

Musical roots of the Welsh and Appalachian exchange

In 1976 Appalachian scholar Helen Lewis was living in Wales and documenting coal mining culture. Lewis arranged for The Strange Creek Singers (featuring American musicians Hazel Dickens, Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger, Tracy Schwarz, and Lamar Grier) to be part of a musical exchange between Appalachia and Wales. These two video clips provide a glimpse into this historic exchange, which inspired the After Coal project. In the first clip, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard sing Coal Miners Blues to an audience of miners at the Onllwyn Miners’ Hall in the Dulais Valley of south Wales. The next clip features Cor Meibion Onllwyn, a traditional Welsh male voice choir, performing The Roman War Song. In 1976, when this video was recorded, most choir members were working miners. The choir still performs today and has travelled to the US as part of the Welsh and Appalachian exchange. Coal Miner's Blues from AfterCoal on […]

A Medley of Mining Music from Appalachia and Wales

We are starting a regular feature of the After Coal blog called Music Monday. To kick things off, we thought we’d share unreleased footage of a collaboration created by Welsh and Appalachian musicians for the After Coal project. In this video clip BBC Radio Wales presenter and folk musician Frank Hennessy works with Welsh fiddler Iolo Jones and Appalachian musicians Trevor McKenzie and Rebecca Branson Jones to create a medley based on the Welsh hymn Calon Lan. Welsh and Appalachian musical exchange from Tom Hansell on Vimeo. Frank told us how the Welsh migration to America brought the song Calon Lan across the Atlantic more than a century ago, where it evolved into Life’s Mountain Railway – a bluegrass gospel standard also known as Life’s Railway to Heaven. Eventually, the tune returned to Wales, and miners’ choirs changed the words, creating Miner’s Lifeguard (also known as A Miners’ Life), now […]

Pre order the After Coal book

The official book launch for After Coal: Stories of Survival from Appalachia and Wales will be November 1, 2018 and the publisher has created a special promo code for preorders. The code is AFTERCOAL. When entered on the West Virginia University Press website, it provides a 30% discount from the purchase price. Feel free to share your ideas about how to use this book to help regenerate our communities in the comments section of this post.

John Gaventa remembers Terry Thomas

Remarks made at the celebration to honour miners’ union leader Terry Thomas’s life Gorseinon Workingmen’s Club, South Wales January 20, 2017 Thank you for the invitation to participate in this memorial for Terry today. I am deeply honoured to be included as part of this gathering. I first met Terry in 1974, when as a young American student at Oxford University, I came to the Welsh valleys to make recordings with Welsh miners to share in turn with miners in the Appalachian coalfields in America, using the then fairly new media of videotape. In both places this period was an important time: in Kentucky miners were engaged in the now famous Harlan County, USA strike – later the subject of an award winning film – and here of course, there was the 1974 miners’ strike, to which earlier speakers have referred. That initial exchange, facilitated by Hywel Francis and the […]

Remembering Terry Thomas

by Patricia Beaver and Tom Hansell. This Friday, January 20, a ceremony will be held at the Gorseinon Workingmen’s Club near Swansea to honor the life of miner and labor organizer Terry Thomas, who died this fall at the age of 78. Terry was an important voice in the After Coal documentary. Terry went into the coal mines in his native Wales in 1960, working underground, and became involved in the National Union of Mineworkers, as local branch secretary. Terry went on to serve as Vice President of the South Wales NUM between 1983 and 1989, coordinating strikes and difficult negotiations throughout the 1984-85 strike year. He then served as a chairman of the Wales Executive Committee of the Labour Party. In After Coal we first see Terry in 1974, interviewed by John Gaventa, in the successful strike which brought in the Labour Government. Terry is also on screen responding […]