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Coal Not Dole

[words Kay Sutcliffe, music Paul Abrahams]

Kay Sutcliffe, wife of a miner from the Kent coal-fields, wrote the poem Coal Not Dole during the mid-'80s dispute between the Conservative government of Maggie Thatcher and the miners' unions. The graffiti slogan Coal Not Dole was used as the title for a Channel 4 TV documentary on the strike broadcast on June 4, 1984.

The Watersons (Norma, Lal, Mike and Rachel Waterson and Martin Carthy) sang Coal Not Dole on December 4, 1987 at a World Music Institute concert at the Triplex 1 Theater, Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York City. This recording was included in 2001 on the Martin Carthy anthology, The Carthy Chronicles. A live performance from Norma Waterson at the 1991 Augusta Folk Festival in Elkins, USA, was published in 2004 on the Watersons' 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song, and was released as a digital download single Coal Not Dole in April 2013 on the occasion of the demise of Margaret Thatcher.

This video shows Norma Waterson with Martin Carthy and Chris Parkinson live at the Kalamazoo Club at The King's Head, London, on Friday March 13, 2009:

Swan Arcade recorded Coal Not Dole in April 1990 for the Hokey Pokey Charity Compilation Circle Dance; this track was included in 2002 on the Topic compilation The Acoustic Folk Box. And Jim Boyes from Swan Arcade recorded it again in 1993 with Coope Boyes and Simpson for their album Funny Old World. This recording may also be the one on the miners' benefit compilation Undefeated.

Chumbawamba sang Coal Not Dole in 2003 on their CD English Rebel Songs 1381-1984. They commented in their liner notes:

Coal Not Dole, written by Kay Sutcliffe, is one of the most moving testaments of the Miners' Strike of 1984-5. Under attack from a government determined to end the power of the unions, the mining communities fought with a spirit in keeping with a proud tradition—a tradition of strikes, pickets and marches, for better pay and improved working conditions. In 1984 the miners were fighting for their jobs, and the strike became a landmark in English political history.

Chris Sarjeant sang Coal Not Dole in 2012 on his WildGoose CD Heirlooms. He commented in his liner notes:

Kay Sutcliffe, whose husband lost his mining job in 1984, wrote these powerful words aroud a popular contemporary political slogan. The melody I took from Swan Arcade's acapella version.

Lyrics

The Watersons sing Coal Not Dole

It stands so proud, the wheel so still,
A ghostlike figure on the hill.
It seems so strange, there is no sound,
Now there are no men underground.

What will become of this pit yard
Where men once trampled, faces hard?
Tired and weary, their shift done,
Never having seen the sun.

Will it become a sacred ground?
Foreign tourists gazing round
Asking if men once worked here,
Way beneath this pithead gear.

Empty trucks once filled with coal,
Lined up like men on the dole.
Will they e'er be used again
Or left for scrap just like the men?

There'll always be a happy hour
For those with money, jobs and power;
They'll never realise the hurt
They cause to men they treat like dirt.

What will become of this pit yard
Where men once trampled, faces hard?
Tired and weary, their shift done,
Never having seen the sun.

There'll always be a happy hour
For those with money, jobs and power;
They'll never realise the hurt
They do to men they treat like dirt.

Acknowledgements and References

The lyrics are from the Funny Old World sleeve notes, slightly adapted to the Watersons' singing.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Origin: Coal Not Dole (Kay Sutcliffe).