For 2019, We are starting a new weekly feature to share films about coal mining and life after coal in mining communities. Over the coming months, we have selected a mix of documentary and feature films from coal communities around the world to share with you. We will start with one of our favorite films: Harlan County USA. The film, which documents the 1973 – 1974 Brookside strike, won the Academy Award for best documentary in 1976, and launched legendary director Barbara Kopple’s career. We hope you enjoy the film, and our new weekly feature. Harlan County USA
This Music Monday we pay tribute to American coal miners who are in danger of losing their black lung benefits. West Virginia singer Hazel Dickens penned this song after losing her brother to black lung in the 1970s. Last month Congress failed to extend the tax that supports the federal black lung disability trust fund, leaving many former miners uncertain about how to pay future medical bills. For more information on the black lung disability trust fund, check out this story from National Public Radio . Hazel Dickens, Black Lung – From the Appalshop documentary Hazel Dickens: It’s Hard To Tell The Singer From the Song directed by Mimi Pickering.
Our music Monday post to to welcome in the New Year features an archival clip of The Strange Creek Singers performing “New River Train.” In 1976 The Strange Creek singers, comprised of Hazel Dickens, Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger, Tracy Schwarz, and Lamar Grier, were invited by After Coal project advisor Helen Lewis to come to Wales as part of the Welsh/Appalachian exchange she helped develop. This rare video clip was recorded during their performance as they perform at the Onllwyn Miners’ Hall in the Dulais Valley of south Wales. Go to After Coal archival videos for more historic footage from this era. NewRiverTrain from Tom Hansell on Vimeo.
This rockabilly tune by Billy Joe Shaver was made famous by country singer John Anderson, whose version made it to #4 on the Billboard charts in 1981. In between the backbeat, the lyrics remind us that everyone has the potential to be a diamond, a message that seems to fit this holiday season. You can listen to Billy Joe Shaver and John Anderson’s versions below: Billy Joe Shaver: John Anderson:
Songwriter Billy Ed Wheeler was born December 9, 1932 in Whitesville, West Virginia. While he is best know for writing the song “Jackson” (which won Johnny and June Carter Cash a Grammy for best duet in 1967), Wheeler’s song “Coal Tattoo” has been recorded by dozens of musicians ranging from the Kingston Trio to Kathy Mattea. As a result, “Coal Tattoo” has become a classic coal mining song. This song tells the story of the millions of mining families that left the Appalachian region during the 1960s to look for work in the factories of the Midwest. Scroll down for additional versions of the song by Kathy Mattea and fellow Hazel Dickens. Coal Tattoo by Billy Ed Wheeler: Kathy Mattea: Hazel Dickens:
Max Boyce is a songwriter and humorist from the former mining community of Glynneath, Wales. His song “Duw, It’s Hard” reminds us that “the pithead baths are supermarkets now”. This well-known performer made a cameo appearance at the Glynneath Rugby Club during a 2016 concert to celebrate the Welsh and Appalachian exchange. As he performed this song, the entire audience sang along, demonstrating the strength of the mining heritage in South Wales. This video clip was recorded at the historic miners’ institute in Treorchy, Wales
As the days shorten, this music Monday post features a classic Appalachian mining song about lack of light. Dark as a Dungeon has been covered by many country artists, including Johnny Cash. This 1951 recording features Kentucky songwriter Merle Travis performing one of the songs that made him famous. Scroll down for a version performed by the man in black. Merle Travis, Dark as a Dungeon Johnny Cash Dark as a Dungeon
Durham miner Ed Pickford wrote this song, which laments the demise of the coal industry in the UK. The chorus provides shout outs to all of the major coal mining regions throughout Great Britain and is a great sing along. The first version below is by the Portland, Oregon based group Press Gang. The following version is performed by Bill Elliot and Kevin Youldon in the Hetton Silver Band Hall, part of the Beamish Museum in England’s northeast coalfields. Press gang: Bill Elliot and Kevin Youldon:
This lively melody from New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint makes the difficult conditions underground sound almost fun. The song was included in Elizabeth Barrett’s award winning film Coal Mining Women (Appalshop films, 1981) and has been covered by musicians ranging from soul and funk artist Lee Dorsey to the post punk band Devo. Scroll down to see live versions of the song from Toussaint and Devo. Allen Toussaint Working in a Coal Mine Devo Working in a Coal Mine
This folk song by Durham miner Ed Pickford voices the concerns of coal miners in the United Kingdom during the nineteen sixties. During this period competition from oil reduced coal’s share of global energy markets. Lord Robens, the head of the National Coal Board from 1961 to 1971, made several controversial decisions that resulted in a steady loss of coal jobs. Miner Ed Pickford shared his memories of those difficult times in this song. This video features a new arrangement by the accapella group Wee Heavies. Wee Heavies, Pound A Week Rise: