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The Big Hewer 1960

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Ewan MacColl 1915 - 1989
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The Ballad of John Axon 1957
Song of a Road 1958
Singing the Fishing 1959
The Big Hewer 1960
The Body Blow 1961
On the Edge 1962
The Fight Game 1963
The Travelling People 1964
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Ballad of the Big Ships

"He was killed in the pit.  He was killed on a Friday morning.  On a Good Friday morning.  I shall always remember.  A stone fell on him.  And they brought him home.  I shall always remember.  He was killed in the pit."
 - from an unnamed miner's widow.

bighewer1960.jpg
Topic TSCD 804

Dealing with Britain's coal miners. (TSCD 804)

original album Release Date: 1959

In many ways, The Big Hewer works in a way that's different from the other radio ballads. It uses the testimony of miners from several areas of Britain, interspersed with song (most notably the recurring "Go Down") by Ewan MacColl, and sound effects from the mines. But it also evokes a bigger, mythical figure: the Big Hewer, the towering figure of different coalfields. From the old-style "drift mines" to the shafts going far into the earth to the modern, largely automated mines, MacColl, Peggy Seeger, and Charles Parker saw how life was lived and had the miners recount it all, from going down the pit for the first time at 14 to those who never came out and their lives away from the collieries. The songs, such as "When I Am Down the Pit," are wonderfully written and performed with joy by artists like A.L. Lloyd and Louis Killen. It's impossible to avoid the subject of death since it surrounds the miners, and it's not shied away from, from the miners talking to the wives who have to wait. And it's an industry that's an important part of British history, having fueled the Industrial Revolution, as "Three Hundred Years I Hewed at the Coal by Hand" recounts. More than anything, what comes across is the profound admiration the producers have for the miners. Not merely for their physical prowess, but their attitude, humor, political activism, and education. While things have changed, as they point out on "Today, Safety Is the Prime Factor," some things remain the same: the endurance of the miners themselves, and the extreme physical conditions. Even as they were making the radio ballad, however, things were changing. Mines were closing, and a whole industry was dying. This was far form its last hurrah, but it stands as on ongoing celebration of some remarkable men.

1. When You Hew A Lump Of Coal
 
2. Out Of The Dirt And Darkness I Was Born
 
3. Schoolday's Over, Con On Then, John
 
4. Now Don't Be Late
 
5. You're At The Pit Bank
 
6. Oh Dear, The Experience To Go Down The Pit
 
7. When I Am Down In The Pit
 
8. So Now You Know The Coal How It Is Got
 
9. Jimmy, Come Back, Come Back
 
10. Yes... He Was Working Next To Me
 
11. And Yet It's Good To Come From The Pit
 
12. Three Hundred Years I Hewed At The Coal By Hand
 
13. Down In The Dark
 
14. In Durham And Northumberland, I'm Sorry To Say
 
15. A Miner Has To Posess That Sense Of Humour
 
16. Coal Is A Thing That's Cost Life To Get
 
17. Today, Safety Is The Prime Factor
 
18. Deep Down In A Man's Heart

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