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The Pitmen PoetsThe Pitmen Poets
Album: The Pitmen Poets
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 17

The Pitmen Poets are (in alphabetical order) Bob Fox, Benny Graham, Jez Lowe and Billy Mitchell. These four indefatigable champions of the north-east's musical heritage got together as The Pitmen Poets at the start of the present decade to celebrate the songs, humour and culture of the region's coal-mining tradition. After two sell-out tours in 2011 and 2013 (and increased public awareness and interest in that tradition spurred on by the revival of the stage production Close The Coalhouse Door), the Pitmen Poets continue to bring their special show - embracing not only the songs but also archive footage and photographs - to venues up and down the country, with more dates planned for 2016 and 2017.

This is the CD of the show - and includes song introductions and banter in its 75-minute timespan. It's a supremely entertaining take-home memento which bears repeated listening and will definitely satisfy home listeners too. The show takes us on a fascinating and educational journey through the centuries of the once-great industry, by means of the songs that saw it thrive and dominate through to those which saw its demise and the resultant aftermath. Jez's own These Coal Town Days kicks the show off, in a reflective ensemble rendition, then follows a veritable parade of mining-related songs, including three by Billy (The Devil's Ground, Shiftin' To The Toon and The Collier Laddie's Wife), three more by Jez (the menacing Judas Bus, the tale of the ex-pitmen's potholing team, and the Pitmen Poets' title song), and the powerful a cappella Just One Spark by Benny. Despite the strength of these songs, however, the show's principal focus, and binding thread, remains the songs by the archetypal pitmen's poet Tommy Armstrong, including superb renditions of his iconic "greatest hit", the perennially hilarious Wor Nanny's A Maizor, The Sheel Raw Flood and The Row Between The Cages. Other classics which get a pertinent airing here too include Ed Pickford's Farewell Johnny Miner, Jock Purdon's Blackleg Mining Man and as encore-cum-finale, The Miner's Lifeguard, while as more than just a recitation interlude we find Alexander Barrass's dialect masterpiece The Pitman's Dream. All four participants are in great voice, and their spirited instrumental playing spills over into the session tune Off To California.

The whole show was recorded live (though it doesn't say where or when) and it sounds like a great experience that I'd travel miles to catch "in the flesh" even though I now have this CD. A triumph for all concerned.

David Kidman