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Blackleg Miners

[ Roud 3193 ; Ballad Index CBThBlMi ; trad.]

The Blackleg Miner is printed in A.L. Lloyd's book Come All Ye Bold Miners: Ballads & Songs of the Coalfields (1952). Lloyd commented in the revised 1978 version:

As sung by W. Sampey, of Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham,18 November 1949. George Korson, in Coal Dust on the Fiddle (Philadelphia, 1943) prints what looks like a parody of this song, The Yahie Miners. Korson's version comes from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, a well-known changing-post for British and American miners' songs. The Durham song has become quite widespread since its appearance in the first edition of the present work, and the tune in particular has taken on variant shapes.

But see also the Mudcat CafĂ© thread Bertsongs? about “songs that owe much more to Bert Lloyd than to the people he claimed to collect them from.”

Louis Killen sang Blackleg Miners in 1961 oh his and Isla Cameron's Prestige International album The Waters of Tyne: Northumbrian Songs and Ballads. He recorded it a year later for the Topic EP The Colliers' Rant: Mining Songs of the Northumberland-Durham Coalfield; this EP was also included in the LP (1968) and CD (1998) Along the Coaly Tyne: Old and New Northumbrian Songs. Louis Killen also sang The Blackleg Miners a year later on A.L. Lloyd's project album, The Iron Muse. This recording was also included in 2009 on Topic's 70th Anniversary anthology, Three Score and Ten. The Iron Muse sleeve notes commented:

At the height of the miners' union struggles of the 1880's and '90's, labourers were brought in from other areas to act as strikebreakers. Ballads of the time describe how the colliers hunted the strikebreakers “like hares upon the moor O.” When caught, the blacklegs might be stripped and the clothes and tools thrown down the pit shaft. In the dark, a rope might be stretched across the way to catch the non-union man by the throat and fling him down.

Ray and Archie Fisher sang Blackleg Miner in a concert in Edinburgh that was published in 1964 on the album The Hoot'nanny Show Vol. 2. The album's sleeve notes commented:

Industrial strife in the bitter bad old days of the mines provoked this Northumbrian ballad. Few songs are so completely unyielding in their attitude. The blackleg or the scab—the worker who defies the strike call of his mates—is still regarded as something that belongs under a stone. It is not a pretty song. Indeed, in these more tolerant times, it is a provocative, ugly song. But it expresses in most eloquent terms the genuine emotions of people at bay.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group recorded The Blackleg Miner for their 1965 album Coal Dust Ballads. The sleeve notes gave their source as W. Sampey as above, and continue:

No collection of miners' songs would be complete without this song, which was so typical of the militant miners' attitude to the non-union man.

Steeleye Span recorded The Blackleg Miner for their first album, Hark! The Village Wait with Tim Hart singing lead vocals. The album's sleeve notes comment:

It is strange that a song as powerful and as singable as this should be so rare, yet it has only once been collected, from a man in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, in 1949. Seghill and Seaton Delaval (presumably the Delaval mentioned in the song) are adjacent mining villages about six miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne, but it is difficult to date the song due to the innumerable mining strikes which have occurred. It is, however, interesting as much as it illustrates the violent hatred felt by the “union” men towards the blacklegs. Ashley Hutchings: “This is the most modern traditional song on the album, possibly dating from the early part of the 20th Century, and is sometimes sung by singers from Northumberland. I believe it was suggested by Tim.”

They recorded it a second time for the CD Present to accompany the December 2002 Steeleye Span reunion tour.

A live version of this song was taped live onto cassette at Nottingham Theatre Royal during the miners strike in 1985. What has been an interesting historical set piece suddenly became a passionate and powerful cry, driven by Rick Kemp's bass and Nigel Pegrum's drums and Maddy Prior singing lead. It was released on the album Back in Line and on the sampler Spanning the Years. A live recording from Perth Concert Hall in 1985 was released in 2001 on the CD Gone to Australia. Another live recording from The Forum, London on September 2, 1995, this time with Tim Hart and Maddy Prior sharing lead vocals, was released on the CD The Journey. A further live version from the Maddy Prior, Family & Friends Christmas tour of 1999 was released on the CD Ballads and Candles. And yet another Steeleye Span performance was recorded live at the Southampton Civic Hall on May 15, 2004 and released on The Official Bootleg.

The Tees-side Fettlers sang Blackleg Miners in 1974 on their Traditional Sound Recordings album Ring of Iron.

Tom Gilfellon sang The Blackleg Miners in 1975 on the High Level Ranters' Topic album The Bonny Pit Laddie.

Bob Davenport sang Blackleg Miners in 1977 on his Topic album Postcards Home.

Isla St Clair sang The Blackleg Miner in 1981 on the soundtrack album to the BBC television series, The Song and the Story.

Jon Boden sang Blackleg Miner as the October 27, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Rosie Upton sang Blackleg Miner and Solidarity Forever in 2014 on her CD Basket of Oysters. She noted:

Probably traditional from Northumberland though possibly modified by A.L. Lloyd. We'll never know for certain. Solidarity Forever, of which we hear just the chorus, was written by Ralph Chaplin, union organiser, poet and artist. I've known both songs for so long I don't know where I first heard them. I regularly use them at trade union events and in trade union song workshops where everyone seems to know them too.

Offa Rex learned Blackleg Miner from Steeleye Span. They sang it, with Colin Meloy in lead, on their 2017 CD The Queen of Hearts.

Lyrics

Louis Killen sings Blackleg MinersSteeleye Span sing The Blackleg Miner

It's in the evening after dark,
When the blackleg miner creeps to work,
With his moleskin pants and dirty shirt,
There goes the blackleg miner!

It's in the evening after dark,
When the blackleg miner creeps to work,
With his moleskin pants and dirty shirt,
There goes the blackleg miner!

He takes his picks and down he goes
To hew the coal that lies below,
But there's not a woman in this town-row
Will look at the blackleg miner.

Well he grabs his duds and down he goes
To hew the coal that lies below,
There's not a woman in this town-row
Will look at the blackleg miner.

Now dinna gang near the Delavel mine
Across the way they stretch a line
To catch the throat and break the spine
Of the dirty backleg miners.

Oh, Delaval is a terrible place,
They rub wet clay in the blackleg's face,
And around the heaps they run a foot race
To catch the backleg miner!

And Seghill is a terrible place,
They rub wet clay in the blackleg's face,
And around the heaps they run a foot race
To catch the backleg miner!

So, dinna gang near the Seghill mine
Across the way they stretch a line
To catch the throat and break the spine
Of the dirty backleg miner.

They take his duds and his tools as well,
And they hoy them down the pit of hell.
Down you go, and fare you well,
You dirty blackleg miner!

They grab his duds and his pick as well,
And they hoy them down the pit of hell.
Down you go, and fare you well,
You dirty blackleg miner!

So join the union while you may.
Don't wait till your dying day,
Cause that may not be far away,
You dirty blackleg miner!

So join the union while you may.
Don't wait till your dying day,
For that may not be far away,
You dirty blackleg miner!

(repeat first verse)

Note: A black-leg is a strike-breaker. Duds are ragged clothes.
From A.L. Lloyd, Folk Song in England [Digital Tradition]

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Garry Gillard for getting the verses straight.