Songs from the North Somerset Coalfields

October 28, 2014

I have just come back from a wonderful evening at Midsomer Norton Library; a performance of mining songs and stories from the North Somerset mining communities put together by Dave Byrne and The Guss And Crook Band. The success of the evening was down to the mixture of entertainment and education mixed in with some extra fun, when the audience was invited to sing along, always a favourite!

Coal was mined here in North Somerset until 1973, so the stories are recent history. What the songs-and the talks and pictures which accompanied the songs throughout the evening- brought home was what a terrible and dangerous industry mining was.

Working conditions were absolutely awful. The coal seams in the North Somerset coalfields were narrow, only about 3 feet high. To get the coal to the surface men or boys (the ‘carting boys’) had to pull a sort of sliding basket (the ‘putt’) on their hand and feet. They wore a rope around their waist to which a chain with a hook was attached which passed between their legs; the hook at the end was then attached to ‘the putt’. (The whole thing was called the ‘Guss and Crook’, hence the name of the band).

Light was provided by a candle attached to the miners’ foreheads, the air was heavy with dust day in day out. And then of course there was the permanent danger from falling rocks or explosions.  Today we sometimes laugh about Health and Safety regulation, but the working practices of those days not so long ago make one appreciate what the workplace would be like without them.

No wonder that the people who worked and often died in the mines ended up striking. The mining songs were not folks songs, but written to support minors who were striking, to raise morale and funds.

Tonight’s performances told a compelling story about the mining communities here in North Somerset. Apart from being accomplished musicians Dave Byrne and his band are clearly passionate about their heritage and they have found a perfect formula of sharing this heritage and passing it on.



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