The sign of a true artist is that they can take a concept we're all familiar with and turn it into something greater. Amy Goddard is a Welsh singer/songwriter now living near Portsmouth, but she grew up in the valleys not far from Aberfan. For the 50th anniversary of possibly the most avoidable mining disaster ever she released a single, "Remembering Aberfan", which went on to become FATEA Song of the Year 2016. That encouraged her to explore the concept of mining further and the result is a new EP which will, I believe, cement her reputation as both a writer and musician of the very highest quality.
The EP opens with "Blue Murder". This explores a situation that was very common in the mining industry, that of emigrant miners being lured across the world with the promise of easy money only to find themselves trapped in jobs with terrible pay and conditions and unable to do anything about it as they didn't have the funds to come home again. In this song the destination is Australia, but similar situations could be found in the coal mines of Canada and elsewhere. The song is sung almost a capella duet with a very light drum to hold the beat and really emphasises the desperate situation these people found themselves in, being driven harder and harder with their whole lives controlled by the Company, who would have also owned the houses the miners lived in and the shops they had to buy from.
"Dark As A Dungeon" takes us underground and can be considered the title track with it's line
'It's dark as a dungeon way down in the mine'. It's dark, damp and dangerous and the miner is already looking forward to death as the only possible release, by which time the dust in his body will make him almost coal himself. For a gloomy subject the tune on this one is very upbeat with guitar and fiddle giving it a real lift and a country feel. The chorus becomes surprisingly sing along very quickly.
Track three, "Green Is The Colour", was the second single to be released, late in 2017. Here the subject is arsenic, mined in huge quantities along with tin during the 19th century and in demand as a very effective pesticide. Discovering it also made a very vivid green, which was used in wallpapers, probably wasn't a great idea. The strength of this song is that it doesn't consider just the miners but also the home owners who took to this fashionable new decorating material and died as a result. As the song says for "the rich man in his townhouse and the miner underground, death was the guest at the table". This song clearly draws it's inspiration from the traditional Black Is The Colour, reworks it very well and is in the living tradition of songs evolving over time.
Whilst we tend to associate mining with coal, as has already been seen it wasn't the only mineral that had to be dragged from the earth. "North Country Blues" is a Bob Dylan song, takinges iron ore as it's subject and the mining is on a huge scale. There were cycles of boom and bust but even in the good times the mine was a dangerous place and the narrator recounts the deaths of various family members either from incidents at the mine, or sickness from the environment. Eventually the mine shuts due to cheaper imported raw materials, the town dies and the narrator, a woman from a mining family now married to a miner, faces a bleak future in a place where the shops have closed down, her husband has deserted her and her children will have to leave to find work. Although the song is set in the USA it's a scene that has been repeated around the world.
As has already been said, this EP had its roots in the disaster that was Aberfan and it was one of those events that becomes a marker in the lives of people who were around at the time, whether they lived nearby or not. This tragedy also inspired the song "Palaces of Gold" by Leon Rosselson, but Amy has chosen a much more focused view of the event. "Remembering Aberfan" is the story of one mother and her son and it's that simplicity which makes this song so incredibly moving and powerful. I saw Amy perform it at Cambridge Folk Festival last year and in in the audience was a young mother with her son sat on her lap. By the end of the song she was in tears and hugging him; that is the power of music. "Remembering Aberfan" is a song everyone should hear and once they have they'll never forget it. Masterpiece is an overused term, but this song is a masterpiece.
Ending the EP is "Underground Road" and returns back to coal miners and their families. Again the narrator is a woman who watches her father and brothers, and eventually her husband, heading below ground every day and wondering if they'll come back. There's a wish from her husband that their son won't have to following but she knows there'll be very little chance of that happening. Eventually, of course, tragedy strikes and as she watches her son play the earth shudders as the mine explodes and 100 men are lost. The real tragedy, though, is that those left behind have no option but to remain and eventually head back underground again. That's a common link in these songs. When a community is reliant on one industry it forges a community but leaves them dependent and completely reliant upon it, no matter the cost in lives destroyed.
This has to be one of the finest special project pieces I've come across. The songs are incredibly good and I believe they will be a worthy addition to the lexicon of mining songs for a long time to come. But, this EP offers even more and that is Amy Goddard herself. She has a voice, likened by some to Sandy Denny or Joni Mitchell, that is made for tragedy. It's gentle timbre, with a sense of vulnerability, brings heart to stories of people who are never going to get a fair chance, not through their own wrongdoing, but simply because they're playing life with a loaded dice.
The album has an official release date is 9th April, followed by a launch event in Boarhunt, near Portsmouth, on Saturday14th. If you want to get hold of it sooner there is a pledge campaign running until the 4th April and pre-orders will be posted out soon after. As I said at the start Amy is a real artist and some of the offers in the campaign reflect that. There are hand drawn plaques alongside the more usual handwritten and decorated lyrics. You can even own part of the actual music from the album as the strings from Amy's guitar, which she made herself incidentally, have been turned into bracelets.
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