Blog No.27: Part 8 of My Close Encounters Of The Music Legend Kind: Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson…and a Milkman


Connection with legends and music

BLOG NO.27 – IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ PART 7 OF THE CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FIRST, CLICK HERE

(Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window. If you’re looking at this in your email inbox, the videos won’t play there but will opened in a browser window from YouTube)

First, I think I must confess something: I thought I would do these Close Encounter blogs purely because I knew they would get more folk coming to my blog site and, hopefully, listening to my music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting many people to have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are not that interested in folk-type music that is primarily about the history of a specific region of England. Just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. (I’ve added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.) There, now I’ve done my confessional, on with the blog….

In my 40-odd years as an actor, puppeteer and movement choreographer in theatre, television and film I was fortunate and honoured enough to meet and work with some music legends – both human and places – from Elton John to Capital Record Studios in LA. It’s only recently that I realised music has been with me my whole adult working life, in one form or another, and I thought I’d share these ‘close encounters’ with you. So here is Part 8 of those encounters….

Left to right: Nigel Planer, Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall

Now, I know what you’re thinking: what has Nigel Planer, Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson or a milkman got to do with music legends? Well, it’s more of a connection between legends and music really, and one I’d totally forgotten about until someone posted a GIF of the late and great Rik Mayall on Twitter (thanks you @ms_cornwall!). Of course, some of you in other parts of the world may not know about these British, anarchic comedy legends, but it’s worth staying, just for the video below. (You may know Rik Mayall from Drop Dead Fred?)

These guys had shot to fame in the early-1980s comedy series, The Young Ones, and had reached cult status. So, for me to get a small acting part on it was yet another dream come true! This is the Legend part of this blog, as that’s what they had become. The series I was involved with was called Filthy Rich and Catflap. Had I remembered it earlier it would have been in an previous blog, as this production was done in 1986. Anyway, at this point in my career I wanted to do more acting again, and even managed to get myself an agent…a move I would come to regret, but she did get me this gig (as we say) in at the BBC in Manchester. (I wouldn’t go back there again until I did Mr Bloom’s Nursery in 2011.)

I didn’t have to do much really: sit there, drink tea, eat a biscuit, be killed, then be dragged around for most of the day by Rik Mayall. The clip below only shows the first part of that involvement; there was a lot more dragging around than that! He was so lovely about it though, and constantly asked if I was OK? Having only recently been inside a Riding Goblin on Labyrinth and a fat ape in the Tarzan film Greystoke, being dragged around was, as Monty Python would say, luxury!

There maybe an audience laughing in that clip, but – I hate to break it to you – there was no audience. I wish there had been as it would have made it even more exciting.

I thought that this (brief) acting interlude might help restart my acting career…but no. The agent either couldn’t find me anymore work, did try, or both, and we soon parted company. It was back to the puppetry. I’d have to wait for my cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II for my next acting role. (See THIS blog about that.)

The musical connection comes via Ade Edmondson and folk(ish) music, believe it or not. Actually, it’s Punk played with folk instruments. Besides being very funny, he is also an excellent cook, and Ade has become a very accomplished mandolin player and singer, and has his own band: Ade Edmondson & The Bad Shepherds, and below is a YouTube video of them in action.

I do have another connection to Ade Edmondson, though not a musical one, as I got to work briefly with his wife, Jennifer Saunders and their lovely friend, Dawn French on an episode of Jim Henson’s 1980s tv series, The Storyteller, called Sapsorrow. I’d then get to work with Dawn again on The Adventures of Pinocchio. These connection are amazing things – which is probably why they made the great BBC tv series, Comedy Connection – and I could just about stretch them a little farther in my case (yes, I know I’m pushing it!) by saying that this bunch all met at Manchester University, and also there were Victoria Wood and Dame Julie Walter. When I moved to London from Stanley at the age of 17,  my first job was at the Mermaid Theatre as office boy, printer, theatre usher and stage doorman, and it was as the latter that I got to know Dame Julie – just Julie then, of course – when she was performing in the fantastic play, Funny Peculiar with the late (and equally lovely) Richard Beckinsale. Now, in that play was also Matthew Kelly, and I would work extensively with his brother, Ian Kelly – who had a video-assist company – on many films; and then later with Ian’s daughter, Lizzie Kelly, who did the same job. I met Matthew again many years later when we were both doing separate productions at the Birmingham Rep, and we had a good old chin-wag and catch-up. There was also one Pete Postlethwaite (also now, sadly, no longer with us) in Funny Peculiar, and he would move to the English county I now live in, Shropshire. So we’ve come full circle. There, now I’ve stretched that to breaking point, I’ll leave….

THE END

If you think these stories are interesting, they will be nothing compared to those the puppeteers from The Muppets or Sesame Street could tell. They’ve worked with more musical legends than I’ve had hot dinners. Having said that, I do have more to come, and Part 9 will be about yet another Encounter I forgot all about, with the late, great British song and dance man, Sir Bruce Forsyth in 1976. (But there will probably be another blog about four more of my songs before that.) Part 10 of the Close Encounter Of The Music Legend Kind will be about singing with the legends that are Kermit and Miss Piggy on the Muppet Beach Party album, and being involved in recording the sitcom Dinosaurs‘ BIG SONGS album at Capitol Records in Los Angeles.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and please do leave a Star Rating at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment or Question below.

Until next time,

Mak

Blog No.26: A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham – Part 4 – 1946 to 1974 – Tracks 1 to 4


Tracks 1 to 4 of the ‘album’ covering the middle of the 20th century – from the story of a miner’s widow, to a joyous song about a miner’s freedom on a Sunday afternoon

BLOG NO.26 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.25 FIRST, CLICK HERE. If you’d like to read first why I wrote these 65 tracks, then click HERE to read that blog. (Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.)

(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see the tracks. Clicking on the title of the blog will open it in a tab of your web browser. For those reading on a iPad, the tracks will open in a separate browser windows and not play on the Page. Apologies.)

Welcome to a blog about tracks 1 to 4 of Part 4 of ‘From The Earth To The Seas’. Now comes the blurb if you haven’t read the other Parts…. There are five ‘albums’ (now 66 tracks in all), covering over three hundred years of history – both real and fictional – relating the English northeastern counties of what were Northumberland and Durham, but now Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Durham including Teesside; Part 4 covers 1946 to 1975. As such, some of the songs are sung in the old Northumbrian, Geordie or Pitmatic accents and dialects. I’ve included explanations of the words used where necessary, and sometimes give lyrics in Standard English.

The dates by the track are either just where I have placed them (e.g. c.1900), this is when the traditional song was written, or this is when the historical event they portray happened. Keep in mind the music styles will change greatly from Parts 1 to 5 as they reflect the time they depict.

If any ex- or working miners out there spot any technical mistakes, please let me know in the comments section at the bottom of the page. If anyone else spots typos, please let me know. Thanks.

Anyone can give a Rate This star rating at the top of the blog or leave a Comment at the bottom of the page, and you can Like this blog if you’re a WordPress member at the bottom. If you’d like each blog to be posted to your inbox, click on the Follow Mak’s Music Blog tab at the top of the sidebar to the right if you’re with WordPress, or FOLLOW (THROUGH EMAIL) if you’re not. Please do rate the tracks in the Poll after them.

Blurb over…now for the tracks….

Track 1 – Without Her Man (c.1946) – A song about a fictional event…although, undoubtedly, such a story occurred at some point in the history of mining.

This song began life in 1978 and was meant to be sung by a woman. Since I didn’t have a lady to do the honours I had to change the lyrics and sing it myself. I would love to hear someone else perform it; man or woman.

Used GarageBand on the laptop.

Track 2 – The Pitman Painter (c.1947) – A song based on the lives of the Pitmen Painters of Ashington colliery, Northumberland; also called the Ashington Group. Let me quote from Wikipedia:

Ashington Group

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Ashington Group was a small society of artists from AshingtonNorthumberland, which met regularly between 1934 and 1984. Despite being composed largely of miners with no formal artistic training, the Group and its work became celebrated in the British art world of the 1930s and 1940s.

Origins

The Group began as the Ashington branch of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), which first advertised a class on ‘Evolution’ in 1927; after a further seven years of evening classes in various subjects they turned their attention to art appreciation.[1] The WEA and Durham University organised for a tutor, the painter and teacher Robert Lyon (1894-1978) to come and instruct the group, but its members, mainly miners from the Woodhorn and Ellington Collieries, quickly grew dissatisfied with the course. Lyon suggested that the group members instead try creating their own paintings as a means to develop an understanding and appreciation of art.

Critical success

By 1936 the group – many of whose members were committed to the principles of the Independent Labour Party – had drawn up an extensive list of regulations, by which all members had to abide, and named itself the Ashington Group; it also held its first exhibition at Armstrong College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.[2] A further exhibition was held in 1938 as an extension of the Mass Observation project.

By the early 1940s the Group had exhibited in London, and continued to thrive after Lyon left to teach in Edinburgh, though he remained in contact with the Group’s members. Over the next few years the work of the Group was noticed and praised by a number of prominent British artists and critics, such as Julian Trevelyan and Henry Moore.

Post-war

After World War II, critical interest in the Group waned, but they continued to meet weekly, producing new art and taking on new members. The critic William Feaver met one of the Group’s central members, Oliver Kilbourn, in the early 1970s, and began a renewal of interest in their work, which was restored and featured in several touring exhibitions. In the 1980s, the Group’s “Permanent Collection” became the first western exhibition in China after the Cultural Revolution.[2]

The Group’s meeting hut was finally demolished in 1983; Kilbourn, the last of the Group’s founder members, arranged for the paintings to be put in trust prior to his death in 1993, and they are now kept in Woodhorn Colliery Museum.[3] Feaver’s book about the Group, Pitmen Painters: The Ashington Group 1934-1984, has been adapted[4] into a play by Lee Hall.

The paintings can be seen at Woodhorn near Ashington, Northumberland.

Prominent members of the Group

  • Oliver Kilbourn (1904-1993)
  • George Blessed
  • Jimmy Floyd (1898-1974)
  • Harry Wilson (1898-1972)
  • Len Robinson
  • John F. Harrison (1904-2004)

Other artists relating to the Group

  • Tom Lamb (3 May 1928 – 24 February 2016)

External links

References

END OF WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE

There is also a fabulous play about them by Lee Hall, which has played at the National Theatre, London, and Broadway, but started life at the Woodhorn Museum’s theatre near Ashington.  Take a look HERE for a video of highlights of the play when it was on Broadway. I’m amazed they understood most of it!

The image I’ve used for the track, which is the same as that on the front cover of Lee Hall’s book of the play, is by Pitman Painter, Norman Cornish. If you click on that blue text link, it will take you to his website. You’ll see just how his first naive style changed as he developed his art.

My music created with GarageBand.

Track 3 – My Causey Burn (c.1947) – The story of a man working at the Causey Mill Drift* Mine near Stanley, Co. Durham – between the famous Causey Arch Bridge (which I wrote a song about in Part 1) and the maginifcent Beamish Museum – and what the washing of the coal had done to the nearby stream called the Causey Burn. I remember it being this horrible tea-brown colour with a nasty odour when I was a child. Now it is crystal clear once more.

*A ‘drift mine’ is a mine that is accessed via a sloping tunnel from the surface, rather than by a vertical shaft. Usually for access to coal seams nearer the surface.

Created with the aid of GarageBand.

Track 4 – Over The Fields On A Sunday Afternoon (c.1950) – This expresses the joy that miners could feel at being out in the fresh air, away from the ‘gaping black hole’. I wrote this back in 1977 (I think) and it was a favourite amongst the mining community then, and it has been amongst the miners of a couple of coal mining Facebook groups since.

Used GarageBand on the laptop.

Below are the Standard English lyrics:

Over the fields on a Sunday afternoon
Racing your pigeons away from the town
Lungs full of fresh air, no dust and no coal
Of it’s good to get away from the gaping black hole

Oh it’s good to get away from the gaping black hole
It’s good to get away from the dust and the coal
To watch a hare fly like a dart over ground
It’s good to get away from the hole in the ground

You can mine ’til you cry, you can mine ’til you die
You can mine ’til you go to that pit in the sky
Where the ground is so soft and you dig for white coal
But still at weekends you get out of the hole!

Oh it’s good to get away from the gaping black hole
It’s good to get away from the dust and the coal
To watch a hare fly like a dart over ground
It’s good to get away from the hole in the ground

I suppose I’ll be stuck in a mine ’til I die
And I hope that I go to that pit in the sky
Well as long as they pigeons and whippets to race
Then it must be like heaven to be in that place!

Oh it’s good to get away from the gaping black hole
It’s good to get away from the dust and the coal
To watch a hare fly like a dart over ground
Oh it’s good to get away from the hole in the ground

REPEAT

Photo by Patrick Ward of a miner from Hordon Colliery, Co. Durham. (See Daily Mail article HERE.)

Recorded in Weston Lullingfields & Oswestry, Shropshire © Mak Wilson 1974, 1976, 1977, 1993, 2007 & 2017

THE END

Thanks so much for reading and listening, and please, please, please rate the songs (below – the polls are anonymous) and the blog (at the top)! (Grovelling over.)

Mak

Blog No.27 will be Part 8 in My Close Encounters Of The Music Legend Kind series. We’re now up to 1991/92, and these legends will be Kermit, Miss Piggy and Co., and recording an album for a tv series I worked on in the States at Capitol Records Studio in Los Angeles.

IF YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE A SKIM THROUGH ALL 65 TRACKS, CLICK HERE.

PLEASE RATE THE TRACKS IN THE BELOW POLLS, IF YOU HAVE TIME…

 

Blog No.25: My Close Encounters Of The Music Legend Kind – Part 7 – Kate Bush, Vanilla Ice, Talking Turtles and a Cameo


My close encounters with several music legends in one day!

BLOG NO.24 – IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ PART 6 OF THE CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FIRST, CLICK HERE

I wrote this whilst my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) was very bad, so apologies if there are typos or it doesn’t quite make sense in parts. I’m just pleased to have got it out at all. Do let me know if you spot anything.

(Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window. If you’re looking at this in your email inbox, the videos won’t play there but will opened in a browser window from YouTube)

First, I think I must confess something: I thought I would do these Close Encounter blogs purely because I knew they would get more folk coming to my blog site and, hopefully, listening to my music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting many people to have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are not that interested in folk-type music that is primarily about the history of a specific region of England. Just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. (I’ve added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.) There, now I’ve done my confessional, on with the blog….

In my 40-odd years as an actor, puppeteer and movement choreographer in theatre, television and film I was fortunate and honoured enough to meet and work with some music legends – both human and places – from Elton John to Capital Record Studios in LA. It’s only recently that I realised music has been with me my whole adult working life, in one form or another, and I thought I’d share these ‘close encounters’ with you. So here is Part 7 of those encounters….

Raphael (red), Leonardo (blue), Michelangelo (orange) and Donatello (purple) reading the UK’s Radio Times

TMNT I

In 1989 the Jim Henson Creature Shop in London, for whom I worked, were asked to do the suits and animatronic heads for New Line’s up coming feature film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles as it had to be called in the UK.) Brian Henson – whom I’d worked with a lot by this point – asked me to puppeteer the face of Michelangelo (Mikey) and assist him as puppet coordinator. Brian himself would also be second unit director. Another great plus was it would be directed by a British director I had worked with before, and would work with again, Steve Barron. He was the principal director on the Henson tv series I had performed on called The Storyteller, and would he would a few years later director another movie I’d do, The Adventures Of Pinocchio (1995).

Performing Michelangelo’s face via the BIG 1 on TMNT II.

Whilst we had used the joystick part of the Henson Performance Control System (also called the BIG 1) on The Storyteller, this would be the first movie where one puppeteer would control the whole face, with a joystick-kind-of-contraption in one hand and a lipsync-mitt in the other. We would also go on to experiment with an infra-red face reading rig on TMNT II, to aid lipsync, but we didn’t really take to them much. To put this in context, only a few years earlier on Labyrinth it took four of us to perform Hoggle‘s face. In the below YouTube video, you can see me explain how the realtime CGI version of the system for the making of Lost In Space featurette, which was basically a later and better, but fundamentally the same, hardware as that used on TMNT. Take a look from 5:00 to 7:10.

So, off I went to CarolCo Studios in North Carolina with wife and two young sons, Ben and Toby in tow, where we’d also film the exterior in the height of the North Carolina humid summer heat; and we puppeteers weren’t even in the suits! Apart from when I was in Cameroon in African, I had never experienced such heat and humidity.

TMNT I may have been the better movie, but it certainly wasn’t to work on. With only one head per character (we had two on the second movie) that also restricted the actors’ head movements (this was improved by the second movie), and an untried new performance system, things got a little…tense at times; especially when there were only two characters in a scene and both heads had problems, which happened in a scene between my character, Mikey, and Leonardo. They had to cut it so you just looked at the character listening to the other talk.

Miche and I

Us puppeteers were, of course, just one quarter of a Ninja Turtle. The other three-quarters were made of the actor in the suit with the animatronic heads, the martial arts/stunt guys from Hong Kong in the suits with ‘stunt heads’, and the voice artist who would dub over our voices later. This was the first time of many I would work with the wonderful Michelan (Miche) Sisti (pictured with me left). He was a joy to work with, and has gone on to be a puppeteer himself. What was helpful for all the guys in the rubber suits was each of their puppeteers had been in their rubbery shoes also at various points in their careers, so we knew what it was like to be in an awkward, hot costume that was hard to see out of or breath in. (The last time I would do so was in 2012.)

TMNT II – THE SECRET OF THE OOZE

So, the first movie was a smash hit, but because the tv animation series was too, the second film would have to be less dark and appeal to a younger audience. Michelangelo’s character would also have to perform without his famous nunchakus, because they had been banned in the UK, amongst other countries. At least this time we would be in North Carolina in the Fall, and me and my family would have a lovely house on the beach; but this time Fiona was pregnant with our third son, Josh, and I only agreed to do the project if they could cover the cost of the birth there. To my surprised they did! Fiona was pretty amazing in this respect. She had already given birth to our second son, Toby, in Austria, whilst I was working on a film called The Bear. She almost had our fourth, Tom, in Australia whilst working on Babe. Luckily that film didn’t go over schedule any more and he was born back in the UK.

This time I would also be the puppet coordinator and captain, as Brian Henson wouldn’t be joining us. In pre-production the job requires you to go through the scripts with the director and work out any problems and come up with solutions, especially when it came to the puppet characters of Splinter the rat in TMNT. In production you also work with the director, but also various other departments in preparing sets, props and rigs. If this extra responsibility and Fiona’s pregnancy wasn’t enough, preparations for this film didn’t get off to a good start for me. I’d been working at home before rehearsals started and decided to go out for some fresh air. As I took a step up to go back into the kitchen, boom! my back went! I couldn’t move. and there was no one else in the house. I had to lean over and grab a chair to use as a zimmer-frame so I could get to the telephone and call the doctor.  At the time he thought I’d slipped a disc, and I thought that was the end of the movie. It turned out to be a slipped and crack vertebrae. I was not going to give up though, and did most of my co-ordinating via the phone whilst lying of my back. Luckily for me, it eased enough for me to be able to start rehearsals in London, whilst seeing a physio’ almost every night to keep me going. I also bought a Balan’s chair, which you both sit and kneel on at the same time, so I didn’t have to stand all day.

Kate Bush (Photo by David Gerrard)

PERFORMING FOR KATE BUSH

The rehearsals got off to a music legend start, when Kate Bush turned up. She happened to be a friend of one of the Creature Shop admin team, and she’d asked if it would be OK to come and have a look? As if running rehearsals wasn’t nerve-racking enough for me (being puppeteer co-ordinatorI) I now had this lovely legend watching! I wasn’t a fan of all her work, but I certainly had a few albums, and, regardless, she was a mega-star! She was fascinated by the process and asked me very intelligent questions, as you might imagine.

It would be yet another one of those occasion where I would be too shy or embarrassed to ask for an autograph or photo with a star. This happened all the way through my career, and all these Close Encounters, and would only end in 2007 when I had my photo take with Jake Shears from The Scissor Sisters whom I worked with on the opening of The Brit Awards that year. That, in fact, will be the last Close Encounter I will write about.

KEEPS ON GOING….

I knew the only way to keep going during shooting was if I had a physio’ with me in North Carolina. Luckily I knew an excellent one from when I was doing Little Shop Of Horrors, called Dave Allen (not the famous Irish comedian!) so I paid for him to fly out to the States, his accommodation and his services. Well, it was either that or have no income at all; and keep me going he did, and others started to pay him to look after them. About halfway through the shoot, the production decided to take up half of the cost – luckily for me – and he kept a great many going, especially the guys in the suits, both actors and stunt doubles.

Yet even with all of the above – coordinating, injured back and pregnant wife – I still enjoyed working on TMNT II far more than the first movie…and that’s saying something! Of course, New Line were a lot more relaxed after the success of TMNT I, and we all knew what we were doing this time around. As I mentioned, we also had two heads per character, which meant we could swap them if one went down – which they did – saving production time and many.

Animatronic face performers of TMNT II left to right: Rob Tygner (Leonardo) Rob Mills (Donatello) Me (Michelangelo) and Dave Greenaway (Raphael)

SINGING WITH VANILLA ICE

The production would call on the late-1980s music rap artist Vanilla Ice to perform in the film, much to many of our surprises. As you will see in the video below, Mikey would get to be on stage with him and sing the song Vanilla Ice composed for the movie, Go Ninja!‘ The song was certainly a hit with the young audience, but a day of constantly listening to it made it wear thin for us. It was even harder for the suit performers, who had to do a dance number in their hot, noisy and heavy animatronic heads.

Vanilla Ice proved to be a very charming guy, despite his ‘tough’ media persona. I think he was just as much made-up that he was working with the Jim Henson Creature Shop and the now extremely famous Ninja Turtles as we were of working with him.

Michelangelo with Vanilla Ice

A LITTLE PART FOR A LITTLE GUY

The production always tried to give both the suite performers and puppeteers a cameo in the TMNT movies, but I missed out on the first one. Luckily for me I got one on TMNT II as Vanilla Ice’s tour manager’s assistant. You will see part of my stunning performance in the clip at the end of the blog. Below here is a still from the scene, with me (the slightly shorter of the two) sporting both ponytail and ear clasps. (At this time I would be still wondering how this working class lad from Stanley, Co. Durham in Northeast England got to be there?)

My cameo role in TMNT II

WHEN A CHILD IS BORN

Josh was born on November 15th, 1990. Luckily for the production, who were covering the cost, he turned out to be the easiest and quickest birth of them all. Fiona had plenty of visitors from the cast, and it wasn’t long until she was able to visit the set, as you can see from the photo below. Michelan (pointing at baby Josh in the pushchair) would become his God-father.

Fiona with newly born Josh in the pushchair, Ben on Leif Tildan’s lap (Donatello) and Toby on Rob Mills’ lap (Donatello face puppeteer). You can guess which son went on to be a performer.

THE CLIP

I’ll leave you with the YouTube clip I’ve been referring to, which starts with what was the second of my cameo character’s appearances.

THE END

If you think these stories are interesting, they will be nothing compared to those the puppeteers from The Muppets or Sesame Street could tell. They’ve worked with more musical legends than I’ve had hot dinners. Having said that, I do have more to come, and Part 8 of the Close Encounter Of The Music Legend Kind will be about singing with the legends that are Kermit and Miss Piggy on The Muppet’s Beach Party Album and being involved in recording the sitcom Dinosaurs’ BIG SONGS album at Capitol Records in Los Angeles.

Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rating at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,

Mak

Blog No.24: A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham – Part 3 – 1900 to 1945 – Tracks 10 to 13


Tracks 10 to 13 of the ‘album’ covering the first half of the 20th century – from the Jarrow Crusade of 1936, to a fictional, strange mining accident tale

BLOG NO.24 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.23 FIRST, CLICK HERE.

If you’d like to read first why I wrote these 65 tracks, then click HERE to read that blog. (Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.)

(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see the tracks. Clicking on the title of the blog will open it in a tab of your web browser. For those reading on a iPad, the tracks will open in a separate browser windows and not play on the Page. Apologies.)

I’m unable to get the next Close Encounters Of The Musical Legend kind out, so it’s this one instead I’m afraid.

Welcome to a blog about tracks 10 to 13 of Part 3. Now comes the blurb if you haven’t read the other Parts…. There are five ‘albums’ (now 66 tracks in all), covering over three hundred years of history – both real and fictional – relating the English northeastern counties of what were Northumberland and Durham, but now Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Durham including Teesside; Part 3 covers 1900 to 1945. As such, some of the songs are sung in the old Northumbrian, Geordie or Pitmatic accents and dialects. I’ve included explanations of the words used where necessary, and sometimes give lyrics in Standard English.

The dates by the track are either just where I have placed them (e.g. c.1900), this is when the traditional song was written, or this is when the historical event they portray happened. Keep in mind the music styles will change greatly from Parts 1 to 5 as they reflect the time they depict.

If any ex- or working miners out there spot any technical mistakes, please let me know in the comments section at the bottom of the page. If anyone else spots typos, please let me know. Thanks.

Anyone can give a Rate This star rating at the top of the blog or leave a Comment at the bottom of the page, and you can Like this blog if you’re a WordPress member at the bottom. If you’d like each blog to be posted to your inbox, click on the Follow Mak’s Music Blog tab at the top of the sidebar to the right if you’re with WordPress, or FOLLOW (THROUGH EMAIL) if you’re not. Please do rate the tracks in the Poll after them.

Blurb over…now for the tracks….

Track 10 – The Jarrow Crusade (Traditional tune, 1936) – This very famous march in British history – also known as the Jarrow March – was organised by the Jarrow town council, who picked 200 of the fittest men to make the 275 mile walk from Jarrow on the Tyne, to London on the Thames. Since the closing of the Palmer’s Shipyard unemployment had skyrocketed, and they took a petition to Parliament to ask MPs to do something about it!

To quote Wikipedia:

“The Jarrow March of 5–31 October 1936, also known as the Jarrow Crusade,[n 1] was an organised protest against the unemployment and poverty suffered in the British Tyneside town of Jarrow during the 1930s. Around 200 men (or “Crusaders” as they prefer to be referred to as) marched from Jarrow to London, carrying a petition to the British government requesting the re-establishment of industry in the town following the closure in 1934 of its main employer, Palmer’s shipyard. The petition was received by the House of Commons but not debated, and the march produced few immediate results. The Jarrovians went home believing that they had failed.

Jarrow had been a settlement since at least the 8th century. In the early 19th century, a coal industry developed before the establishment of the shipyard in 1851. Over the following 80 years more than 1,000 ships were launched in Jarrow. In the 1920s, a combination of mismanagement and changed world trade conditions following World War I brought a decline which led eventually to the yard’s closure. Plans for its replacement by a modern steelworks plant were frustrated by opposition from the British Iron and Steel Federation, an employers’ organisation with its own plans for the industry. The failure of the steelworks plan, and the lack of any prospect of large-scale employment in the town, were the final factors that led to the decision to march.

Marches of the unemployed to London, termed “hunger marches“, had taken place since the early 1920s, mainly organised by the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM), a communist-led body. For fear of being associated with communist agitation, the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress (TUC) leaderships stood aloof from these marches. They exercised the same policy of detachment towards the Jarrow March, which was organised by the borough council with the support of all sections of the town but without any connection with the NUWM. During their journey the Jarrow marchers received sustenance and hospitality from local branches of all the main political parties, and were given a broad public welcome on their arrival in London.

Despite the initial sense of failure among the marchers, in subsequent years, the Jarrow March became recognised by historians as a defining event of the 1930s. It helped to foster the change in attitudes which prepared the way to social reform measures after the Second World War, which their proponents thought would improve working conditions. The town holds numerous memorials to the march. Re-enactments celebrated the 50th and 75th anniversaries, in both cases invoking the “spirit of Jarrow” in their campaigns against unemployment. In contrast to the Labour Party’s coldness in 1936, the post-war party leadership adopted the march as a metaphor for governmental callousness and working-class fortitude.”

END OF ARTICLE

For this song I made the unusual choice of using the tune of a famous 19th century Wearside song – The Lambton Worm – for a famous 20th century Tyneside event. It just seemed to fit. If you haven’t heard The Lambton Worm, click HERE to do so. Just to warn you: it uses a lot of local dialect words, so you may have trouble understanding some of it.

Created with GarageBand, and even played an harmonica on it!

Some dialect words:  Gan: ‘go’; Whist lads had ya gobs and Aa’ll tell yez aall an amazin’ story: ‘Please lads be quiet and I’ll tell you all an amazing story’; Whist lads had ya gobs and Aa’ll tell yez boot wor Crusade: ‘Please lads be quite and I’ll tell you about our Crusade”; gannin: ‘going’; aaful: awful; coos: ‘cows’; wor: ‘our’; bairns: ‘children’; divn’t dee: ‘don’t do’; back up hyem: ‘back up home’; aall reet: ‘all right’; as lang as we didn’t caall th’m pets; ‘as long as we didn’t call the pets’ (‘pet’ is a form of endearment); soo noo ya knaa: ‘so now you know’; nee bloody joke: ‘no bloody joke’.

Track 11 – Through A Tear (c.1940) – A fiction tale of the sadness of a miner’s dog after his master is killed in a mining accident. I think I wrote this in 1978.

Created with the aid of GarageBand.

The image is by Pitman Painter, Norman Cornish

Track 12 – When I First Met Her (c.1943) – A love story, set in South Moor, Stanley, Co. Durham.

This one I did in full Pitmatic dialect, so below is the translation into Standard English.

When I first met her
Me face was all black
Me clothes were all dirty
And manner I did lack
But I knew when I first saw her
On the streets of South Moor
That I would take her
To have and to hold

She was kind
She was gentle
With the grace of a dove
Yet she chose me above all
To be the one that she’d love

When I first met her
In the Co-Op she served
And I can say now
That she was more than I deserved
But that little Amy Dodgson
Saw something in me
She says it was me smile
‘Cause it was all that she could see

She was kind
She was gentle
With the grace of a dove
Yet she chose me above all
To be the one that she’d love

When we started courting
To the flee pit we’d go
To watch a Charlie Chaplain
Or any picture show
But it wouldn’t be long
‘Til we weren’t watching the flicks
‘Cause in the back row
We had started to kiss

She was kind
She was gentle
With the grace of a dove
Yet she chose me above all
To be the one that she’d love

Her father was a big man
And a miner you see
But thought his little girl
Was too good for me
And when I asked his permission
To marry his lass
He said as long as he lived
That would never come to pass

She was kind
She was gentle
With the grace of a dove
Yet she chose me above all
To be the one that she’d love

Well her mam, she liked me
See said give him some space
She’d tried to persuade him
But don’t show your face
But his words came to haunt him
‘Cause it was just one more day
That he was left on this Earth
‘Cause under it he would stay

Now she’d lost her husband
Like she’d lost her sons
So she said we could marry
So at least she’d gain one
And soon we were wed
But her mam was all alone
So we said come stay with us
Make our home your home

She was kind
She was gentle
With the grace of a dove
Yet she chose me above all
To be the one that she’d love

It’s been fifty years now
Since I wed my dove
From the streets of South Moor
From the street we did love
And though so much has changed here
No prospects, no coal
We still have each other
My mate of the soul

She is kind
She is gentle
With the grace of a dove
And she chose me above all
To be the one that she’d love

She is kind
She is gentle
With the grace of a dove
And ’til death us do part
She’ll be the one that I love

Track 13 – It Happened On The Peace Of VE Day (1945) – This fictional story starts with a miner being trapped behind rock after a roof collapse on VE Day, 1945, but which takes an unexpected twist as his rescue is underway. It was somewhat an experiment – not sure whether it worked or not – based on an idea I initially had for a radio play. It’s turned out to be the longest song I’ve ever written.

Use GarageBand both on iPad and laptop.

Recorded in Weston Lullingfields & Oswestry, Shropshire © Mak Wilson 1974, 1976, 1977, 1993, 2007 & 2017

THE END

Thanks so much for reading and listening, and please, please, please rate the songs (below – the polls are anonymous) and the blog (at the top)! (Grovelling over.)

Mak

I haven’t decided yet what Blog No.25 will be.

IF YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE A SKIM THROUGH ALL 66 TRACKS, CLICK HERE.

PLEASE RATE THE TRACKS IF YOU HAVE TIME

 

Blog No.23: 5 songs covering 250 years of soldiers of the Northeast who gave for their country


For Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday

BLOG NO.22 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.21 FIRST, CLICK HERE

(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see the tracks. Clicking on the title of the blog will open it in a tab of your web browser. For those reading on a iPad, the tracks will open in a separate browser windows and not play on the Page. Apologies.)

Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.

This is a re-blog of Blog No.14 in respect of Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. Two of the five tracks below are about World War I.

When I was doing these 66 tracks the second track I chose for Part 1 and the 18th century was the traditional song, Over The Hills And Far Away. After I’d recorded it, I thought I ought to do another version to balance out this propaganda song, so Track 3 would become this. Then, once I’d reach the late-20th century, I thought I’d bookend the first track with another, contemporary version. I then decided I’d do a couple of songs about World War I and the miners of Northumberland and Durham who volunteered to become Sappers with the Royal Engineers, digging trenches, as well as tunnels underneath the enemy, so they could plant thousands of pounds of explosives. So here are those five tracks….

WAR OF SPANISH SUCCESSION

  1. Over The Hills And far Away No one knows when the original dates from, but the song I have done dates to 1706. According to Wikipedia: “One version was published in Thomas D’Urfey‘s Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy; a very different one appeared in George Farquhars 1706 play The Recruiting Officer. A version also appears in John Gay‘s The Beggar’s Opera of 1728.” However, the song was made famous by the British television series, Sharpe, starring Sean Bean. The version I’ve done – the George Farquhar one – dates to over a hundred years before the Napoleonic Wars that his character was involved in. Mine stays closer to the ‘original’ tune, and not the one arranged and sung by John Tams for Sharpe, although I’ve added some Northeastern dialect to it. It’s about recruiting men for the War of Spanish Succession.

2. Over The Hills And far Away – Epilogue – An epilogue to the previous track. Where that was a propaganda song to get recruits, my version – which uses something closer to Tams’ tune – looks at the affects of war on the men who were ‘fortunate’ enough to return home to Northeast England. No support then. It was either beg, steal, or both. (I’ve given him a slight Northumberland accent.)

DIALECT WORD: Gan owwa=’go over’; owwa the hills=’over the hills’; waak=’walk’; aanly=’only’; afore=’before’; nee=’no’; aall Aa wanted=’all I wanted’; thowt=’thought’; Noow a violent=’Now a violent’; waa=’war’.

FIRT WORLD WAR

Whilst the Northeast of England had the two regiments of the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Durham Light Infantry, it was with the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers that the miners of the region would join as Sappers. Sometimes it may not have been the duty of fighting for King and Country that led them to do this, but the money, which was considerably more than that of most colliers.

The two songs I wrote are set at either end of this awful event in history. The first – He Volunteered For The Money – takes place in 1914, with a miner volunteering for the extra money, and the second – I Never Thought I’d See The Day – is set in 1918, with a Sapper returning to the mines, and how his experiences in the war have made him see mining as not being as bad as he used to think.

There are dialect words in the second track: thowt=’thought’; knaa=’know’; urth=’earth’; aall=’all’; divn’t tell uz=’don’t tell me’; me marra=’my work mate’

NORTHERN IRELAND AND THE FALKLANDS WAR

Regardless of what anyone might think of the politics behind The Troubles or the Falklands War, it had profound affects on the soldiers that served in them, especially the latter.

Over The Hills And far Away – Contemporary  – By the time I had got the point where I’d done five ‘albums’, I thought I may as well attempt a more contemporary version of Over The Hills And Far Away, and decided to date it to around the early-1980s, when British soldiers were dealing with Northern Ireland, the Falklands War and UN duties in Bosnia. It may have been the 20th century, but there was still was no support for the returning soldiers to help them deal with what they’d experienced, in the Falklands especially. There were more British soldiers who committed suicide after returning from the Falkland’s than died in the conflict itself. The Iron Lady in the song refers to the Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher.

Thanks as always for reading and listening, and do please leave your thoughts below, or a star rating at the top of the post,

Mak

 

Blog No.21: A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham – Part 3 – 1900 to 1945 – Tracks 5 to 9


Tracks 5 to 9 of the ‘album’ covering the first half of the 20th century – from a sad tale of the loss of a mining father, to a bunch of jolly Irish sailors playing a reel

BLOG NO.21 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.20 FIRST, CLICK HEREIf you’d like to read first why I wrote these 65 tracks, then click HERE to read that blog. (Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.)

(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see the tracks. Clicking on the title of the blog will open it in a tab of your web browser. For those reading on a iPad, the tracks will open in a separate browser windows and not play on the Page. Apologies.)

Whilst these particular blogs don’t get the same number of visitors as my Close Encounter blogs, I will continue with them, for a while at least.

Welcome to a blog about tracks 5 to 9 of Part 3. Now comes the blurb if you haven’t read the other Parts…. There are five ‘albums’ (now 66 tracks in all), covering over three hundred years of history – both real and fictional – relating the English northeastern counties of what were Northumberland and Durham, but now Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Durham including Teesside; Part 3 covers 1900 to 1945. As such, some of the songs are sung in the old Northumbrian, Geordie or Pitmatic accents and dialects. I’ve included explanations of the words used where necessary, and sometimes give lyrics in Standard English.

The dates by the track are either just where I have placed them (e.g. c.1900), this is when the traditional song was written, or this is when the historical event they portray happened. Keep in mind the music styles will change greatly from Parts 1 to 5 as they reflect the time they depict.

If any ex- or working miners out there spot any technical mistakes, please let me know in the comments section at the bottom of the page. If anyone else spots typos, please let me know. Thanks.

Anyone can give a Rate This star rating at the top of the blog or leave a Comment at the bottom of the page, and you can Like this blog if you’re a WordPress member at the bottom. If you’d like each blog to be posted to your inbox, click on the Follow Mak’s Music Blog tab at the top of the sidebar to the right if you’re with WordPress, or FOLLOW (THROUGH EMAIL) if you’re not. Please do rate the tracks in the Poll after them.

I ONLY RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT YOU CAN’T PLAY THESE TRACKS DIRECTLY ON AN IPAD, AND YOU ARE DIVERTED TO A BROWSER. APOLOGIES FOR THIS, AND I HOPE IT DOESN’T STOP YOU FROM LISTENING TO THEM. 

Blurb over…now for the tracks….

Track 5 – That Shaded Way (c.1923) – This song was created in 1973 when I was 15, and my best friend, David Hodgson, wrote a poem called Family Footsteps, which I put to music. Whilst it’s about a miner’s son telling of his dad’s walk to the pit through woodland, and one day never returning, David’s mining dad was one of those who had the long trip to the coast to get to his colliery at Dawdon, and he lived to go onto retire. David’s parents were like a mam and dad to me, so this song is close to my heart and has been liked by many over the years when I’ve sung it.

The only difference between this version and the original poem is I have missed off the last verse. This is because I adapted it to use in my Leaving School musical, where the last verse didn’t work. I was going to redo it for here, but my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome forbade it.

All guitars care of GarageBand on iPad.

Track 6 – The General Strike Of ’26 – (1926) – A song about the disastrous British General Strike of 1926, which left the miners worse off than they were before they went out on strike. To quote Wikipedia:

“The 1926 general strike in the United Kingdom was a general strike that lasted 9 days, from 3 May 1926 to 12 May 1926.[1] It was called by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in an unsuccessful attempt to force the British government to act to prevent wage reduction and worsening conditions for 1.2 million locked-out coal miners. Some 1.7 million workers went out, especially in transport and heavy industry. The government was prepared and enlisted middle class volunteers to maintain essential services. There was little violence and the TUC gave up in defeat. In the long run, there was little impact on trade union activity or industrial relations. Keith Laybourn says that historians mostly agree that, “In no significant way could the General Strike be considered a turning point or watershed in British industrial history.”[2]

Full article HERE.

I know from my mother that at least one of my grandfathers was caught up in this, and it was probably both of them. All my grandparents had died before I was born, and my father died when I was six, so I have limited information.

The Strike was covered well in the 1970s tv drama, Days Of Hope. This also involved my family, as they used my Aunt Meggie’s street in Langley Park near Durham to film, and she even got a featured extra’s role in it…the whole street also got their external paint work done as a bonus. The series would use the now famous Stanley actor, Alun Armstrong, as well as the wonderful Yorkshire actor, Paul Copley. I would meet him just a few years later when he was doing a play at the Mermaid Theatre in London, where I was working at the time. To my amazement, he remembered my aunt well. She was, after all, a lovely and memorable lady. They would use the same street and my aunt again in the 1970s tv drama series, When The Boat Comes In.

Once again, this is sung in a Pitmatic accented character voice.

Created with the aid of GarageBand on the iPad.

Track 7 – The Colliery Infantry Corps (c.1930) – I think I wrote this in 1976 or ’77. It’s a jolly, somewhat romantic view of miners on their way to work c.1930. Having said that, my older nephew, Alan ‘Titchy’ Calvert, loved it at a time when he was still mining, and enjoyed to sing it too. I thought he would still have been at Kibblesworth Colliery at that time, but that closed in 1970, so it must have been Monkwearmouth Colliery

I have given it slightly different words and tune to it since then, when I changed them to singing about the ‘Colliery Infantry Corps‘.

The painting I have used to illustrate the track is most definitely not from the 1930s, and is by Pitman Painter Norman Cornish. I haven’t been able to find a photo, as they all seem to show miners leaving work, rather than going to it.

This one I did in full Pitmatic dialect, so below is the translation into Standard English.

You’re knocked up by the Caller*
As he hits your window twice
You put your boot and hoggers (work shorts) on
The sun she starts to rise
With a bait tin (for food) under one arm
And a cap upon your head
You kiss your wife a loving goodbye
As you set of down the street

Oh your boot begin to clatter
And your boot begin to crunch
Oh what a lovely sound is that
Of pit boots in a bunch
Oh they sounds just like a regiment
A marching off to war
But we’re the fellas who fight for coal
The Colliery Infantry Corps

Oh you march off down the cobbled streets
And over fields of green
Far away from sunlit skies
And air that’s fresh and clean
Working in your cavel (work nook)
With your marrow (work mate) by your side
Digging out the diamond black (black diamond=coal)
With blood and sweat and pride

Oh your shovel begins to clatter
And your picks begin to crunch
Oh what a lovely sound is that
Of working in a bunch
Oh it sounds just like a regiment
A marching off to war
But we’re the fellas who fight for coal
The Colliery Infantry Corps

Man 1: Durham Light Infantry? They’ve got nothing on us, man!
Man 2: Well, no!

*The Caller was a man with a long poll that knocked on your bedroom window.

Recorded in 2010 with GarageBand.

Track 8 – Take Me Away! – A fictional tale set around 1933 of a collier who is the only survivor of a great mining disaster, and the guilt he is left with; as well as the animosity of the dead miners’ families towards him. I had to use my imagination with this one, but I can imagine something like it happening after such an event.

This is another sung with some Pitmatic dialect words, so below are the Standard English lyrics:

Take me away
Cause I don’t wish to be
Take me away
By whatever means you see
Heaven or hell
It makes not a difference to me

You let them die
Yet you chose me to live
What was the point
When it’s purgatory you give
Take me away
‘Cause no one will ever forgive

Widows they stare at me
I know that they think the same
Mothers will spit in my face
I have become their sole blame
Fathers that I once knew
Now turn and walk away
As for my loved ones
Well they just don’t know what to say

Take me away
Or by my hand I will
Take me away
Since you seem free to kill
Take me away
Wipe me from this cold bleak hill

But you know me well
A coward I am
It’s only you now
That can end this sham
Take me away
To the slaughter lead this ‘black lamb’

Widows they stare at me
I know that they think the same
Mothers will spit in my face
I have become their sole blame
Fathers that I once knew
Now turn and walk away
As for my loved ones
Well they just don’t know what to say

Take me away
Cause I don’t wish to be
Take me away
By whatever means you see
Heaven or hell
It makes not a difference to me
Heaven or hell
It makes not a difference to me
Heaven or hell
It makes not a difference to me

Created with the aid of GarageBand on the iPad.

Track 9 – Durham Irish Miner’s Reel – When coal mining was at its height in the 1930s in Durham and Northumberland, immigrants came from as far as Cornwall and Ireland to work there. Some Irish words made it into Pitmatic – the miners’ dialect – such as ‘craic’ or ‘crack’, although its meaning changed from ‘How are you?’ to ‘chat’, or ‘banter’. If you want to know more about this, this PDF document gives the history of them in County Durham, as well as the migration to the Northeast from other rural counties of England, such as Suffolk.

Another created by mixing and matching Apple Loops, so I can’t take too much credit for this one.

Recorded in Weston Lullingfields & Oswestry, Shropshire © Mak Wilson 1974, 1976, 1977, 1993, 2007 & 2017

THE END

Thanks so much for reading and listening, and please, please, please rate the songs (below – the polls are anonymous) and the blog (at the top)! (Grovelling over.)

Mak

I haven’t decided yet what Blog No.22 will be.

IF YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE A SKIM THROUGH ALL 66 TRACKS, CLICK HERE.

PLEASE RATE THE TRACKS IF YOU HAVE TIME

Blog No.20: My Close Encounters Of The Music Legend Kind – Part 6 – ‘Elvis’, ‘Michael Jackson’, ‘Bono’…& The Queen


My close encounters with several music legends in one day!

BLOG NO.20 – IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ PART 5 OF THE CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FIRST, CLICK HERE

(Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window. If you’re looking at this in your email inbox, the videos won’t play there but will opened in a browser window from YouTube)

First, I think I must confess something: I thought I would do these Close Encounter blogs purely because I knew they would get more folk coming to my blog site and, hopefully, listening to my music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting many people to have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are not that interested in folk-type music that is primarily about the history of a specific region of England. Just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. (I’ve added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.) There, now I’ve done my confessional, on with the blog….

In my 40-odd years as an actor, puppeteer and movement choreographer in theatre, television and film I was fortunate and honoured enough to meet and work with some music legends – both human and places – from Elton John to Capital Record Studios in LA. It’s only recently that I realised music has been with me my whole adult working life, in one form or another, and I thought I’d share these ‘close encounters’ with you. So here is Part 6 of those encounters….

Margaret Thatcher & Ronald Reagan

I first worked with the satirical tv puppet show Spitting Image in 1987 when they did their The Ronnie And Nancy Show special, which would also be broadcast in the US. This very successful series had been going since 1984. I actually auditioned for it back then but didn’t get the job. Partly because the puppeteers at that time were doing the voices and had to be impersonators too, but also because I probably wasn’t good enough…and I may have been too short! (The latter problem I rectified my whole tv and film puppeteering career with the boots shown below; although this wouldn’t lengthen my short arms.)

My puppeteering boots

Now Spitting Image, if you have never seen it, was quite a hard hitting satirical show, which you either loved or hated. At its height, when I was working on a series in 1989, it was getting 11 million viewers at 10pm and a Sunday night! That is quite some fete, and also meant that at least 11 million liked it. The like or dislike went for the style of puppets and puppetry. It wasn’t my natural style as by the time I joined it, it was all being done to a soundtrack, and my puppetry came from within and the voices I had created. The other challenge could be the size of the puppets and the shape of their heads. They could be very large, and if you had a small hand like I have, lip-syncing could be a challenge all of its own. They were also designed to look like someone, not for ease of use. (If you think some of the lip-syncing isn’t actually syncing, it was usually because we got soundtracks to the topical sketches the day we shot them, and there simply wasn’t the time to learn it.)

This photo illustrates well the size of some of the puppets

The puppet size issue was the reason why I was very often given the smaller sized characters to do, like the MP, David Steel; although I was the puppeteer of the famously grey-faced-large-puppet of John Major, before he was the Prime Minister, when he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer. (I had left the series before he became the PM.) However, unlike many, I really enjoyed and was quite happy to just assist other puppeteers, either as their ‘other hand’ or doing the eyes. I would do this quite a bit with puppeteer Anthony Asbury on Prime Minster, Margaret Thatcher. (Voiced by the marvellous Steve Nallon, who also puppeteered on the show.) The next special I would be involved with was the 10 years of Margaret Thatcher special. There were quite a few musical numbers in that, but not with any music legends, just infamous politicians.

I had also started to work with them just after I had first contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; now generally known as ME/CFS. This meant the hard work it took to operate these giants was made just that bit harder. The ME/CFS would eventually lead to me having to stop doing working on Spitting Image in 1990, and being virtually chair bound for the next six months.

MUSICAL NUMBERS

What I always loved doing were the musical numbers. These were done prior to the main shoot, as the latter had to be shot as late to broadcasting as possible to be topical. We recorded the last sketches the day of transmission, and they could still be laying back the sound to Part 2 of the show as Part 1 was being aired! So doing these musical pieces was always a lot more fun…for me at least. We had a little more time to be creative.

I’ve chosen four musical pieces: three were with the rubbery versions of music legends, and the last with a latex version of a certain monarch.

‘THE JAILS ARE PACKED’ – ‘ELVIS’

I have to say, it was an honour working with ‘Elvis’ and doing this song! As you’ll see, it was a HUGE number and a lot of extra puppeteers were brought in. This parody merged Elvis’s Jailhouse Rock and I’m All Shook Up to explore the question of overcrowding in UK jails. As relevant now as it was then…if not more so.

A WARNING: IT GET’S EXPLICIT IN PLACES AND THE NAKED BUTT YOU’LL SEE IN THIS VIDEO WAS, I HATE TO SAY, MINE!

‘I’M MAD!’ – ‘MICHAEL JACKSON’

Big at this time was the Michael Jackson song and music video Bad. Unfortunately for Michael Jackson he lent himself too well to be poked satirical fun at by Spitting Image, and that’s exactly what was done when we did our Mad video.

‘NOBODY KNOWNS WHAT I’M ON ABOUT’ – ‘BONO’

This was another fun, if somewhat bizarre song to do, based on U2′s song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking ForIf my memories serves me correctly, I was performing the U2 guitarist known as The Edge…hence my edgy performance. (Sorry.)

‘WE ARE THE ROYAL FAMILY’ – ‘QUEEN

We’ll leave Spitting Image with the parody of Queen‘s song, We Are The Champions. This was another enjoyable experience, and I even got to dress up as the Queen, wear a rubber mask and strut my funky stuff for the wide shots. (I would go on to have one of my more weird Close Encounter with Queen‘s guitarist, Brian May, which I’ll blog about when we get to 1995.)

THE END OF AN ERA….

Jim’s final bow

It was during my last stint with Spitting Image in 1990 that a got home to listen to an answer machine message telling me that Jim Henson had died. What a horrible way to find out. What a shock! It hit me like a tonne of bricks. The odd thing was that, although I had worked with him quite a bit by that time, it was only recently I’d really got to know him, and I’d even say we were becoming friends. I remember when we had dinner in a lovely restaurant in Plymouth, after we’d done the pilot for Jim Henson’s Mother Goose Stories, that I spent the evening sat next to him, chatting with him for most of that lovely summer’s evening. Of course, I knew his son Brian very well, and we were great mates, but Jim was very hard to get close to. I had just been working with Brian, on the last series of Mother Goose Stories, which he was editing at the time his father died, and I was asked if I would direct a few shots that needed doing, as well as complete the last six shows, which still required editing. I had been puppet captain and coordinator on the show, but this would be my first tv directing. I was saddened yet honoured and excited by the request, which I, of course, said yes to. Brian would jump on a Concorde flight to New York for the funeral and memorial service, and I did as requested. I would later be asked to be one of the few UK puppeteers to perform at Jim’s St. Paul’s Cathedral memorial service, which was probably the greatest honour I have ever been given. It was a wonderful service, full of tears of joy and sadness…but also filled with jokes and laughter, as Jim would have wanted it to be.

This would be the end of an era, and an amazing decade for me. A decade that took me on a journey from puppet theatre to film and television, but also from healthy to struggling most of the time with the ME/CFS. A bitter-sweat ten years, but a time I wouldn’t want any other way.

If you think these stories are interesting, they will be nothing compared to those the puppeteers from The Muppets or Sesame Street could tell. They’ve worked with more musical legends than I’ve had hot dinners. Having said that, I do have more to come, and Part 7 of the Close Encounter Of The Music Legend Kind will be about Kate Bush, Vanilla Ice, Dancing Turtles and a Cameo.

Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rate at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,

Mak

Blog No.19 – An unintended blog


A big thank you, some pleading and some requests….

BLOG NO.19 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.18 FIRST, CLICK HERE

Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.

Hi all. I was going to blog going into detail about the first four tracks of Part 4 of A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham, which covers the beginning of the 20th century, but since it contains two songs that pertain to the First World War, I thought I’d save it until the 11th of November when that event will be commemorated.

Instead, I’ll just take this opportunity to thank all of you who follow these crazy blogs, and especially those who leave comments and have rated the blogs and my music tracks. Feedback is the only way I know how they are going down, so the more the merrier. Don’t be worried if you don’t like something, let me know. When taking the Poll on the tracks, the name of the vote casters are anonymous to me, so feel free to press the Didn’t like option, if you, well, didn’t like. There has usually only been two or three ‘Followers’ voting, which can only lead me to assume that these are the only people listening to them from these blogs. I’ll give it a couple more weeks, but if the numbers continue to be small I may discontinue doing them. They take a while to do, and my ill health makes them that much harder. If I know they’re entertaining plenty of folk (no pun intended) then the effort is worth it. I realise it may simply be down to just lack of time for many of you, which I quite understand.

None of this surprises me, as the music was written for my own creativity and for a few family members, and I never thought many of them to be much good. Perhaps there is one ‘album’s worth of the five I’ve done that could be considered OK…by the majority of you, as well as myself. When I’m feeling up to it, I would like to try and write some tracks specifically for others. There are a couple of ex-miners who have sent me their poems to try and put music to, and I’m looking forward to doing so when I’m feeling up to it. It has been very gratifying that ex-miners at a couple of Facebook UK Coal Mining Groups have listened to them the most…the songs about coal mining that is. Of course, they didn’t come to them via these blogs, but Facebook and my SoundCloud account.

I’VE GOT YOUR NUMBER

I did get a bit of a shock this morning whilst writing this blog as I looked to the sidebar to see the number of email followers had dropped from 491 to 14! I actually think this is a WordPress error, and the latter lower number is the correct one. I was rather amazed that there might be almost 500 people following me. As if!

FOLK FOR FOLK SAKE!

I would love for any music artists out there – amateur or professional – to take a song of mine they might like and make it their own. They are all free to use for live performances with a credit only. I just want to get them out there and entertaining (and educating) a wider audience. Please get in touch if you’re interested.

COME AND BLOG!

I would also love anyone else with music related stories, or Northeast England stories, poems or songs, to post them here. What Close Encounters Of The Music Legend Kind have you had? Or, how has music – or poetry – changed, saved or inspired your life? I would love to hear, and I’m sure others would too!

A NEW FACEBOOK GROUP?

I have been considering staring a new Facebook Group, which would be entitle something like A CELEBRATION OF MINING IN THE UK – THROUGH WORDS, MUSIC & ART. The problem is, I’m not sure if I want to take on another project, so I’m still mulling it over. The idea has had favourable responses from the Facebook Coal Mining Groups, so that is encouraging. If I did take it on I’d probably need one or two other Admins to help run it.

IN THE MEANTIME….

In the meantime, I’ll continue with the Close Encounter blogs, which, understandably, are the most popular. They have been very therapeutic for me also. Before writing them I didn’t want to even think about the career I had to give up, as it was too painful. Since doing those particular blogs that pain has eased somewhat. Hurray!

Once again, THANK YOU, and do come and get involved!

Mak

Blog No.20 will be Part 6 of my Close Encounters with ‘Elvis’, ‘Michael Jackson’ and ‘Bono’. The inverted commas around their names will make sense when you read it.

IF YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE A SKIM THROUGH THE 65 TRACKS IN THE 5 ‘ALBUMS’ OF MY MUSIC, CLICK HERE TO GO TO THAT BLOG.

Blog No.18: My Close Encounters Of The Music Legend Kind – Part 5 – George Martin, Mark Knopfler & Paddy Moloney


My close encounters with several music legends in one day!

BLOG NO.18 – IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ PART 4 OF THE CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FIRST, CLICK HERE

(Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window. If you’re looking at this in your email inbox, the videos won’t play there but will opened in a browser window from YouTube)

First, I think I must confess something: I thought I would do these Close Encounter blogs purely because I knew they would get more folk coming to my blog site and, hopefully, listening to my music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting many people to have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are not that interested in folk-type music that is primarily about the history of a specific region of England. Just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. (I’ve added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.) There, now I’ve done my confessional, on with the blog….

Left to right: Mike Quinn, the legend that was Richard Hunt (Scooter from The Muppets) and me.

In my 40-odd years as an actor, puppeteer and movement choreographer in theatre, television and film I was fortunate and honoured enough to meet and work with some music legends – both human and places – from Elton John to Capital Record Studios in LA. It’s only recently that I realised music has been with me my whole adult working life, in one form or another, and I thought I’d share these ‘close encounters’ with you. So here is Part 5 of those encounters….

Farkas Faffner

In 1988 I got my second tv series with the Jim Henson Company: The Ghost Of Faffner Hall. (The first being Jim Henson’s Mother Goose Stories.) I was doubly excited because this was an educational show about music, and we were going to have a great many musician guests, from the famous to the not-so. The one downside was I landed the job of puppeteering Farkas Faffner (pictured left), the owner of Faffner Hall, who hated music! In fact, he even had trouble saying the word. This meant I wouldn’t get to meet half of the guest stars, like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. But there were times when I would get the chance, either through being asked to perform a secondary character, or standing in for one of the other performers who couldn’t do their character that particular day for some reason. This last reason gave me the chance to meet and hear the amazing South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo; used by Paul Simons on his Gracelands album. I was standing in for the lovely Mike Quinn performing his character, Riff. (See video below.)

As Farkas, I did get to work with the amazing trumpet player, Dizzy Gillespie, and when Farkas got a bump on the head, which changed him to loving music for one episode, I got to perform with the incredible Danish recorder player, Michala Petri. The most memorable Farkas/musician encounter was probably with violinist Nigel Kennedy. Mostly memorable because it was hard to get through a take without him swearing.

The other great thing about doing this show was that it was a co-production with Tyne-Tees-Television and we recorded most of it in the town where I’d started my acting career 14 years earlier: Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. My wife, Fiona, and our two young sons, Ben and Toby came up to stay in a rented cottage for a while, which was not far from the town I grew up in. This meant I could also get to see some of my family.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THREE KIND

So, how did these particular close encounters come about you ask? (You may not have asked, but I’m going to tell you anyway!) Well, George Martin (producer of The Beatles) had composed a tune for a Riff dream sequence, which he was going to play on an upright piano, as Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits and a Newcastle lad) played guitar and Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains) played the penny whistle. Several of us puppeteers would be performing Muppet monsters playing violins and a cello – me on the cello – stood next to George Martin. (See video below.)

I’m sure many of you will not have heard of any of these particular gentlemen of music, but they are all legends in their own ways. I have to admit, I’d forgotten who George Martin was until I was reminded on the day. It was he who did the amazing and groundbreaking arrangements and orchestrations for The Beatles on albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Mark Knopfler I knew of well, partly because I liked his band, Dire Straits, and partly because he was from Newcastle and a fellow Geordie. But, for me, the biggest treat was actually getting to work with Paddy Moloney of the Irish folk band, The Chieftains. Not only had I many of their albums at the time, but my first date with the woman who would become my wife was at a Chieftain’s concert in the Town Hall, Birmingham.

About 15 years later I would get the chance to visit George Martin’s AIR Studios in Hampstead, London, as Brian Henson was there recording the score for a tv mini series he had directed and I had both puppeteered and been CGI animation director on: Jack and the Beanstalk – The True Story. What a wonderful experience that was! I love recording studios anyway, but that was something else. Funnily enough, both Brian and I had another connection to this building before it was the studio, when it was the unused Lyndhurst Road Congregational Church, because the Jim Henson Company – which was based in Hampstead at the time – used it for rehearsals and auditions, and I auditioned there for Faffner, and (possibly) Labyrinth.

AIR (Associated Independent Recording) Studios

If this day wasn’t thrilling enough, two more amazing things happened. After we’d finished recording, George Martin turns to us Monsters and asks if he can have his photo taken with us? Us? We all thought it should have been the other way around. Of course we obliged, although we never did see that photo.

Then, to really cap this incredible day off, our writer and producer, Jocelyn Stevenson, knowing I was a huge Chieftains fan, asked me if I’d like to go out to dinner with her and Paddy Moloney. Well, I nearly fell of my chair! So it was that I sat in an Indian restaurant in Soho, London not only listening to Paddy Moloney tell some wonderful anecdotes, but he then gets his penny whistle out – which he carries everywhere – and starts playing along to the Indian music that was on the tannoy, saying how like Irish music it was. Wonderful! BUT…the most amazing part of the evening was Paddy’s story about his old friend Peter Sellars. He told us that one night, at about three in the morning, he was suddenly awoken by the sense that someone was standing at the bottom of his bed. There was, he said: Peter Sellars, smoking a cigar. He simply smiled at Paddy, said, “See ya Paddy”, then disappeared. Paddy then told us he went back to sleep, if he wasn’t already asleep already and this had been a dream. The next morning, however, he turned on the radio only to hear the news that Peter Sellars had died. This is when it really hit him. Dream or not, it was either an incredible coincidence – which do happen – or Paddy’s mate had come to say goodbye. Make of it what you will.

That was the end of an amazing day, and working on The Ghost of Faffner Hall was pretty incredible all around. It had its problem and faults and, unfortunately, ITV didn’t want to take the risk of a second season with, what was in children’s television terms, an expensive show. So that was that.

I AM NOT WORTHY

If you think these stories are interesting, they will be nothing compared to those the puppeteers from The Muppets or Sesame Street could tell. They’ve worked with more musical legends than I’ve had hot dinners. Having said that, I do have more to come, and Part 5 will be my Close Encounters with ‘Elvis’, ‘Michael Jackson’ and ‘Bono’. (You’ll discover why their names are in inverted commas.) Before that, Blog. No.19 will cover tracks 5 to 9 of Part 3 of A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham.

Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rate at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,

Mak

Blog No.17: A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham – Part 3 – 1900 to 1945 – Tracks 1 to 4


The first four tracks of the ‘album’ covering the first half of the 20th century – from a true mining disaster to the football rivalry between Tyneside and Wearside

BLOG NO.17 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.16 FIRST, CLICK HEREIf you’d like to read first why I wrote these 65 tracks, then click HERE to read that blog. (Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.)

(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see the tracks. Clicking on the title of the blog will open it in a tab of your web browser. For those reading on a iPad, the tracks will open in a separate browser windows and not play on the Page. Apologies.)

Whilst these particular blogs don’t get the same number of visitors as my Close Encounter blogs, I will continue with them, for a while at least.

Welcome to a blog about tracks 1 to 4 of Part 3. Now comes the blurb if you haven’t read the other Parts…. There are five ‘albums’ (now 66 tracks in all), covering over three hundred years of history – both real and fictional – relating the English northeastern counties of what were Northumberland and Durham, but now Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Durham including Teesside; Part 3 covers 1900 to 1945. As such, some of the songs are sung in the old Northumbrian, Geordie or Pitmatic accents and dialects. I’ve included explanations of the words used where necessary, and sometimes give lyrics in Standard English.

The dates by the track are either just where I have placed them (e.g. c.1900), this is when the traditional song was written, or this is when the historical event they portray happened. Keep in mind the music styles will change greatly from Parts 1 to 5 as they reflect the time they depict.

If any ex- or working miners out there spot any technical mistakes, please let me know in the comments section at the bottom of the page. If anyone else spots typos, please let me know. Thanks.

Anyone can give a Rate This star rating at the top of the blog or leave a Comment at the bottom of the page, and you can Like this blog if you’re a WordPress member at the bottom. If you’d like each blog to be posted to your inbox, click on the Follow Mak’s Music Blog tab at the top of the sidebar to the right if you’re with WordPress, or FOLLOW (THROUGH EMAIL) if you’re not. Please do rate the tracks in the Poll after them.

I ONLY RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT YOU CAN’T PLAY THESE TRACKS DIRECTLY ON AN IPAD, AND YOU ARE DIVERTED TO A BROWSER. APOLOGIES FOR THIS, AND I HOPE IT DOESN’T STOP YOU FROM LISTENING TO THEM. I ALSO DISCOVERED THAT THOSE RECEIVING THESE VIA POST CAN’T SEE THE TRACKS AT ALL. APOLOGIES FOR THIS, BUT IT IS BEYOND MY POWERS.

Blurb over…now for the tracks….

Track 1 – And Far Beneath Them – This was my centennial tribute to the 168 men and boys who lost their lives in the West Stanley (Burn’s) Pit disaster of 1909. Stanley was the town I grew up in, but, strangely, I only heard about this much awful disaster many years later. Please excuse me if this time I quote in detail from Wikipedia.

“The 1909 explosion occurred at 3:45 p.m. on 16 February. By 2 a.m. the downcast shaft was available for rescue parties to descend. They entered the Townely and Busty seams, and from thence went into the Tilley seam. In the latter they found and brought out 26 men. From the Townley seam four men were found, but one died from the effects of afterdamp after 30 hours. Eventually another 165 bodies were retrieved, two were unaccounted for when the search was called off.[15] In 1933 later workings broke into the Busty seam and two skeletons were discovered. They were identified as the missing men.[16]

BEFORE THE EXPLOSION

By this date a significant amount of electricity was being used underground. Two electrically driven coal cutting machines were used in the Townley seam and one each in the Tilley and Brockwell seams.[17] The largest motors underground were the 100 horsepower (75 kW) pump in the Busty seam near to the Busty shaft and the 100 horsepower (75 kW) haulage motor in the Townley seam. There were also two smaller 25 horsepower motors and three 5 horsepower motors elsewhere in the colliery.[18] To power this a 40 Hz 550 volt 150 amp three phase generator was installed on the surface which delivered the power through insulated (but unarmoured) cables down the Busty shaft.[19]

As well as the motors, there were a few incandescent lamps around the shafts.[20] All other illumination was from Marsaut and Donald type safety lamps. The lamps were lit and locked on the surface, and if extinguished had to be sent back to the surface for relighting.[20] However, following the discovery in 1933 of the two skeletons an inquest was held (as required by law). At this inquest J B Atkinson attempted to present fresh evidence that another type of lamp was in use. This was the Howart’s Patent Deflector lamp which was larger than the standard lamps. As a result of the increased volume the lamp was unsafe; an explosion inside would be large enough to pass through the gauze and ignite the surrounding atmosphere. The coroner allowed him to read the statement, but the jury were directed to disregard it in their determination of the identity and cause of death.[21]

Other preventative measures were watering, control of shot firing and inspections. Watering to keep coal dust damp was performed regularly, however the inspector cast doubt upon its effectiveness having observed pools of water next to dry dust.[22] Shot firing to bring down stone and, in some seams, coal appears to have been tightly controlled.[23] Inspections on behalf of the men were meant to be carried out every three months. The reports from January 1909 could not be produced. Those from September 1908 were produced and were all satisfactory.[24]

THE EXPLOSION

Five minutes before the explosion the man in charge of the large pump in the Bust seam advised the generator house that he was about to start the pump. This was normal procedure. Five minutes later there was a “burring” noise from the generators indicating an electrical overload, followed by two of the three (one per phase) fuses blowing. Smoke issued from the downcast shaft, in other words moving against the air flow, followed fifty seconds later by a fireball and cloud of smoke. A few moments later the cloud was sucked back down the downcast shaft as the air circulation re-established.[15]

Both main shafts were damaged by the explosion. The downcast (Busty) shaft suffered damage all the way to the surface, and then the casing between the pit top and the heapstead[d] was blown down. The upcast (lamp) pit also suffered damage, but fortunately the fan was uninjured and continued to run.[15] Before the district inspector could arrive the shaftmen had already started to clear away the debris from the downshaft. A temporary hospital was established at the pithead. Medical and rescue stores were brought in and by 2 a.m. the cages could be lowered down the pit. The men mentioned above were brought up, but there were no further survivors. Recovery and exploration work went on “unceasingly” until 6 days after the explosion all but two of the bodies had been recovered and brought up. The search for these two (the ones found in 1933) was abandoned due to increasing danger to the recovery parties.[15]

INVESTIGATION

The first step in investigating a colliery explosion is to determine where the explosion occurred. In the case of West Stanley the official report states “in no case that we [ie Redmayne and Bain] have investigated has it been more perplexing than the one under consideration”.[26] The first thought was that the seat of the explosion might have been in or near the engine house in the Towneley seam, but further investigation rendered this unlikely. The Brockwell seam was next considered. There was evidence of some burning; this being the only place in the mine where it was observed. No cause of ignition, accumulation of gas or the presence of a blower[e] was found. Further damage to the props and the separation door indicated that the explosion had swept into the seam (“inbye”) before sweeping out (“outbye”).[26]

There was no damage to the Tilley seam and the men working there had been saved, so it was not considered further. The only seam left was the Busty coal. The onsetter, Matthew Elliott, was the only man to have survived from the Busty seam and his evidence is quoted at length. Critically the electric lights went out at the time the explosion was heard (“Yes, it was instantaneous”), some time before the cloud was observed by a safety lamp.[26] Two mining engineers who had arrived at 8 p.m. following the explosion were cross examined and agreed that the explosion occurred in the Busty seam and was due to a coal dust. Neither could say how the dust was ignited.[26]

The inquiry then considered how the coal dust might have been ignited. Four possibilities were considered: Open lights (lamps or matches), shot firing, sparking from friction and electricity. No evidence of faulty lights or contraband was found (though there remains the question of the Howart’s Patent Deflector reported at the 1933 inquiry).[27] All shots were accounted for and every shot hole inspected; none was fired at the time or shortly before the explosion.[28] Friction from tubs (coal wagons) against the rails or following a derailment was considered and dismissed.[29]

Electricity was then considered. The fuses within the mine did not blow, but evidence from the colliery electrician mentioned a previous occasion when sparking had burnt through a cable and not blown the fuses. Dr W M Thornton, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Armstrong College was then called as a witness. He considered three causes but settled on one in particular as the most likely; that a train of coal dust between the terminals of a junction box or switch causes arcing between the terminals which ignited the coal dust causing an explosion within the box. This explosion raised enough dust to trigger a bigger, fatal, explosion which spread throughout the mine.[30]

The report concluded with a number of recommendations including better mechanical protection of electrical equipment (impact and ingress of gas or dust), trip coils in place of fuses and better cleaning.[31]

AFTERMATH

A pit-wheel memorial was erected at Chester Road in Stanley.It shows all of the people who died in that incident.[32] A memorial service was held in 2009 to mark the centenary of the disaster.”

-END OF WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE-

I actually recorded all of this song with GarageBand in 2009 when I was recovering from shingles, sitting in an armchair in the living room, so my voice is a little wobbly at times. Apologies. I did try to re-record the vocals recently, adding in one of the coal seams l hadn’t mentioned – the Tilley – but it just didn’t seem to have the same feel, so I left it as it was.

Dialect words: bairns=’children’; owld=’old’; cracked=’chatted’/’bantered’;

Track 2 – He Volunteered For The Money – (1914) – I did cover the next two tracks in an earlier blog, but I will list them again here.

Whilst the Northeast of England had the two army regiments of the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Durham Light Infantry, it was with the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers that the miners of the region would join as Sappers. Sometimes it may not have been the duty of fighting for King and Country that led them to do this, but the money, which was considerably more than that of most colliers. The two songs I wrote are set at either end of this awful event in history. The first – He Volunteered For The Money – takes place in 1914, with a miner volunteering for the extra money.

There are dialect words in the second track: thowt=’thought’; knaa=’know’; urth=’earth’; aall=’all’; divn’t tell uz=’don’t tell me’; me marra=’my work mate’

Created with the aid of GarageBand on the iPad.

Track 3 – I Never Thought I’d See The Day – The tune for this song started life as one of the newer songs for the belated 40th anniversary recordings of my musical, Leaving School. Set in 1918, with a Sapper returning to the mines, it is about how his experiences in the war have made him see mining as not being as bad as he used to think. Whether this is how it affected some returning miners, I don’t know, but this is where my imagination took it.

All instruments care of GarageBand and Logic Pro X.

Track 4 – The Magpies And The Black Cats – This will be appreciated by those who know of the longstanding rivalry between the football (soccer) teams of Newcastle United (The Magpies) and Sunderland (The Black Cats). It was ever presence in my youth, just as it is now, but at present Newcastle supporters are revelling in the fact that Sunderland are doing so badly. I have always been a Sunderland supporter, but want any Northeastern team to do well, no matter who they are.

Created with the aid of Apple Loops and GarageBand on the iPad.

Recorded in Weston Lullingfields & Oswestry, Shropshire © Mak Wilson 1974, 1976, 1977, 1993, 2007 & 2017

THE END


Blog No.18 will be Part 5 of my Close Encounters with George Martin (producer of The Beatles),  Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits and a Newcastle lad) and Irishman Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains), all in one day.

Thanks so much for reading and listening, and please, please, please rate the songs (below – the polls are anonymous) and the blog (at the top)! (Grovelling over.)

Mak

IF YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE A SKIM THROUGH ALL 66 TRACKS, CLICK HERE.

PLEASE RATE THE TRACKS IF YOU HAVE TIME