Haddaway Man, It's The Pitmen Poets!

The Pitmen Poets,

Walker Theatre,

Wednesday 30th November 2019

If you were around pre-Nineteen Eighty Four you will be very much aware of how mining and mining communities were the very backbone to our existence. They kept us warm and illuminated. You might also be aware that that date is one of the most crucial dates in our industrial heritage. It was the year that the miners stood firm against a government who wanted to see their eradication and the pits started to close. Now we have none then we had hundreds. Some of the richest seams in Europe still lie beneath our soil and there it will stay. Think of that what you will but it is nevertheless a salient point in our being and still a topic worthy of remembering.

So how lucky we are to have another rich seam and that is the wealth of the songs and stories that came from the industry. Although miners all over the UK had their songs and their traditions The Pitmen Poets and their sharp Durham wit seem to sum it all up beautifully. Tonight they offered up an amazingly fascinating insight into the life and humour of the Geordie coal communities and led us on a journey with songs and anecdotes  written mostly by the miners and workers themselves.

So who are the Pitmen Poets? The line-up is Bob Fox, Billy Mitchell, Jez Lowe and Benny Graham. All of them are performers in their own right the more folky officiandos will recognise all those names for the wonderful contribution they have made to music and everyone else will know what a tremendous contribution they had made in the oral tradition as they keep alive in our minds our past and where we all came from to get here.

Jez Lowe has contributed massively to the British, Canadian, American and Australia folk music scene with his incredibly poignant and beautiful writing and there was a fair share of Jez’s work tonight and he offered a quality that warms you and wins you as he breathes life into his marvellous writing.

The show starts with am empty stage just four chairs four mics and the instrument stands. Suddenly the packed house was treated to some very moving Brass Band music. It may have Brighouse and Rastrick or maybe the Grimethorpe Colliery Band it is hard to determine but the beauty and clarity of the brass gives an overbearing feeling of sorrow and nostalgia for a world now lost and gone. On the back of that the Pitmen Poets take their places and immediately start with two amazingly powerful songs. The mood was set and on the show ran. Thrilling and delighting as it went.

Delighting because, this is a collaboration that would even get Cecil Sharp looking down of his cloud. This is a collaboration made in heaven and the voices work so well together with such soft and sensitive tones. One gets a feeling that this is a subject so close to all of their hearts. Which, is really great for the audience, but even greater for the London theatre that decided to put the four of them together. They hadn’t themselves planned to work together but when they finally did all meet up on stage there was obviously a great coming together of minds and as a consequence this show has turned into what can only be described as superb event.

One of the greatest members of the original Pitmen Poets was Tommy Armstrong. He was a Tynesider and a balladeer. He was also a miner several of his songs were featured but none, in this reviewers opinion, were as moving  Bob Fox’s Trimdon Grange, a story of sorrow and loss following a large explosion that occurred at Trimdon Grange. It was beautiful, the sound quality was superb and Bob's soft Geordie tones did such a justice to that sublime piece of writing.

There were a couple of songs that really stood out, Trimdon was one but then Jez Lowe sang his Judas Bus; being all about the miners who took the bus, and went to work during the strike in 84. The clever device was that interwoven into the song was, The Blackleg Miner. The coming together of contemporary and traditional songs juxta-posed and yet so belonging to each other was again highly impressive. One saw this as a metaphor that during the days of our mines times never really changed.  There was always bother, be it from the Mine Owner, the Gang Leader or the Landlords back home, the miners never had it good and yet we as a country relied so strongly on their efforts. Isn’t strange that some feel the need to keep people down financially, constrained and controlled? One believes that this injustice is what gives rise to the majority of their songs.

However there is light and shade in this show, the banter or the crack is mighty, Billy Mitchell had us rolling in the aisles with his hilarious asides and wry comments. Obviously given that today a December election has been announced. Talk about ammunition. The audience took relief in giggling at the mess we are in and somehow one felt that everything might be alright, but no-one is really sure. How such little changes.

Musically these guys are so talented. Benny Graham looks like the melodeon he was playing , he was born holding. His fingers worked like spiders on his keys and there seemed to be a double up on each amazing note. When players make things look so easy it invariably isn’t as many folkies will claim is true. But with the incredibly tighly controlled guitars, the mandolin and bazooki, one found a coming together of strings in a way that is just so pleasing. Bob and Billy together can race around each other in circles, I am not talking about Jazz infusion here I am instead talking of every available note in a phrase being found and beautifully utilised. Such was the musicianship of this collaboration.

This show is a treat. The players can be classed as folk royalty and one only has to hear them play and sing that one realises that is a more than fair moniker. The Poets will be back; they seem on average to tour about every two years so by the time they get back here again I shall be steering my way there and I can only imagine so will you too.

Tonight we have been fully and greatly entertained the show ended all too soon however unlike the mines and the British Miners, they will be back. When they are you will see why this is a top rated show.

This is a Five Star Review.

Incidentally the artwork showing  Jez Lowe and Bob fox is taken from a bigger work and  was done by Ken Wilson of the famous North-Eastern singing family, The Wilsons. We are honoured at loveshrewsbury.com as Ken has never given permission for his work to be used in such a way. So big thanks go to Ken. You can check out the full picture of the Pitmen Poets and all his other work at kenwilsonsalbums.com

Owen J. Lewis


Sofia Lewis Sofia Lewis
For many years Sofia wrote here under her male name Owen J. Lewis. She is now mostly writing under her own name of Sofia Lewis. Sofia, who worked on independent radio for over ten years, lives in Shrewsbury and writes plays. She has over 15 titles published and her plays are performed all over the world. She is especially popular in America. Her poetry is also often noted and she writes reams of it most weeks. Since graduating in theatre in 1997 Sofia has been an Actor, Filmmaker, and a Secondary School Teacher. Reviewing theatre is something she thoroughly enjoys and she loves to see great theatre. As a musician Sofia is known throughout the UK she is a folk singer, and is often seen or heard around her native county singing and having fun. Sofia has contributed to loveshrewsbury.com for over a decade and enjoys sharing her views on theatre. Sofia has one daughter and grew up in Church Stretton.

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