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The Blantyre Explosion

[ Roud 1014 ; Laws Q35 ; Ballad Index LQ35 ; DT BLANTYRX ; Mudcat 103983 ; trad.]

Karl Dallas: One Hundred Songs of Toil Ewan MacColl: Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland Sheila Douglas: The Sang’s the Thing

Ewan MacColl sang The Blantyre Explosion in 1957 on his Topic album of industrial folk ballads, Shuttle and Cage. This track was also included on his Topic albums Steam Whistle Ballads and The Real MacColl. The album’s sleeve notes commented:

The disaster described in this ballad occurred at Messrs. Dixon’s colliery, High Blantyre, near Glasgow on 27 October 1877, with the resulting death of over 200 miners. Unlike many pit disaster ballads which take the form of the Irish “come all ye” songs, The Blantyre Explosion is in the tradition of the South-West Scottish Elegy. This version sung here was collected in 1951 and first appeared in A.L. Lloyd’s Come All Ye Bold Miners.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang The Blantyre Explosion in 1965 on their Transatlantic album Coaldust Ballads. They commented in their sleeve notes:

The disaster occurred at Dixon’s Pit, High Blantyre, near Glasgow in 1877. Melody and fragmentary text were collected from R. Greening, Glasgow in 1951.

Johnny Collins sang The Blantyre Explosion in 1973 on his Traditional Sound Recordings album The Traveller’s Rest.

Jon Raven sang The Blantyre Explosion in 1973 on the Trailer album Songs of a Changing World.

Brian Osborne sang The Blantyre Explosion in 1976 on his Traditional Sound album Ae Fond Kiss. He noted:

A terrible underground explosion took place at Dixons Pit, at High Blantyre, in 1877. The ballad states that 310 men were killed. This may have been exaggerated over the ensuing 99 years but the grief and tragedy experienced by their loved ones were real enough to inspire the composer.

Dick Gaughan sang The Blantyre Explosion in 1986 on his album of songs of the Scottish miners, True and Bold.

Mick West sang The Blantyre Explosion in 1995 on his Lochshore album Fine Flowers and Foolish Glances. He noted:

This song is from an old friend of mine, Colin MacNee. It first appeared in A.L. Lloyds collection Come All Ye Bold Miners in 1951. The song concerns the pit disaster at Dixon’s Colliery in High Blantyre on 22 October 1877 in which over 200 miners lost their lives.

Niamh Parsons sang Blantyre Explosion on Fromseier Rose’s 2003 CD Contradiction.

Mick Groves sang Blantyre Explosion on his 2004 album of songs of Ewan MacColl, Fellow Journeyman.

Alasdair Roberts of The Furrow Collective sang The Blantyre Explosion on their 2014 album At Our Next Meeting. He commented in their sleeve notes:

The song concerns Scotland’s worst mining disaster which happened in the Lanarkshire town of Blantyre in 22 October 1877, when 207 miners lost their lives in an explosion at Dixon’s Blantyre Colliery. Our version is based on an arrangement written by the great Glasgow-based jazz musician and composer Bill Wells.

This video shows The Furrow Collective at a house concert on 23 February 2014:

Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer sang The Blantyre Explosion in 2016 on their CD Paper of Pins. They noted:

Taken from Jon Raven’s delightful book Victoria’s Inferno (1978), this is the story of the 1877 coal mine disaster in Blantyre in South Lanarkshire. The text is first recorded by A.L. Lloyd in Coaldust Ballads (1951). A miserable event that resulted in 240 deaths with the youngest a boy of 11. (There’s a slight hyperbole in the song who assures us 309 men were killed). Sadly two more explosions in 1878 and 1879 are testament to the owners being either too incompetent or uncaring to improve safety standards.


Alasdair Roberts sings The Blantyre Explosion

By Clyde’s bonny banks where I sadly did wander
Among the pit heaps as evening drew nigh;
I spied a young woman all dressed in deep mourning
A-weeping and wailing with many a sigh.

I stepped up beside her and thus I addressed her:
“Pray tell me the cause of your trouble and pain.”
Weeping and sighing, at last she made answer
“Johnny Murphy, kind sir, was my true lover’s name.”

“Twenty-one years of age, full of youth and good looking
To work down the mines of High Blantyre he came,
The wedding was fixed, all the guests were invited
That calm summer evening young Johnny was slain.”

The explosion was heard, all the women and children
With pale anxious faces they haste to the mine.
When the truth was made known, the hills rang with their mourning
Three-hundred-and-ten young miners were slain.

Now husbands and wives and sweethearts and brothers
That Blantyre explosion they’ll never forget;
And all the young miners that hear my sad story
Shed a tear for the victims who’re laid to their rest.