As a descendant of a family of miners, including my father, who toiled in the Durham coalfields it is hardly surprising that I have a passion for songs that document that industry over the years. To the pantheon of great songwriters who have contributed to that canon - Jez Lowe, Jock Purdon, Ed Pickford, John Tams and Tommy Armstrong to name but a few - we must now add Joe Solo whose latest CD provides a most moving and vivid account of the Miners Strike of 1984 - 85 through the experiences of the men and women of Stainforth and Dunscroft in South Yorkshire - The Hatfield Brigade.
The thirteen songs contained on the CD chronicle the individual and collective response of miners and their wives to what was a watershed moment in industrial relations and political malice in the United Kingdom. Each of the songs plays its part in the narrative in such a unique fashion and from such a specific angle that all feel essential.
With so many superb songs to choose from it can seem perverse to highlight examples with which to illustrate the impact of the CD but a number do suggest themselves on the first few listens.
Rebekah Findlay's beautiful and plaintive voice on 'Standing By Your Man' and 'They Can't Do That To Me' - and her sublime fiddle playing on the latter - serve to remind us of the critical role played by the miners' wives and partners in supporting the strikers.
'Summer Fields and Riot Shields' and 'The Day The War Came Home' take us, respectively, to the centre of the action at Orgreave in June 1984 and to a later incident in August 1984 at Hatfield where the Police charged a seated picket line and a state close to civil war ensued. Although the scenarios are both of conflict the musical and lyrical approach to each is quite different and demonstrates a creative intelligence not always to the fore in political song.
The last two songs before the bonus track, 'The Long March Back' and 'Never Took My Soul', encourage us to maintain our pride and commitment in the face of adversity and defeat, keep our banners flying high and to never abandon our souls to the evils of capitalism and greed. We may lose that battle but we must keep on striving to win the war - that message is, I believe, even more relevant now than it was at the time of the miners' strike. If you share this view, and live close enough, there is an opportunity to hear Joe and Rebekah perform the whole album live at the Pit Club, Stainforth on 6th February.
A CD full of passion, anger and dark humour. Just what I would have expected from Joe Solo - but more so!
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