The Big Hewer (Re-mastered)
Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker & Peggy Seeger
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In many ways, The Big Hewer works in a way that's different from the other radio ballads. It uses the testimony of miners from several areas of Britain, interspersed with song (most notably the recurring "Go Down") by Ewan MacColl, and sound effects from the mines. But it also evokes a bigger, mythical figure: the Big Hewer, the towering figure of different coalfields. From the old-style "drift mines" to the shafts going far into the earth to the modern, largely automated mines, MacColl, Peggy Seeger, and Charles Parker saw how life was lived and had the miners recount it all, from going down the pit for the first time at 14 to those who never came out and their lives away from the collieries. The songs, such as "When I Am Down the Pit," are wonderfully written and performed with joy by artists like A.L. Lloyd and Louis Killen. It's impossible to avoid the subject of death since it surrounds the miners, and it's not shied away from, from the miners talking to the wives who have to wait. And it's an industry that's an important part of British history, having fueled the Industrial Revolution, as "Three Hundred Years I Hewed at the Coal by Hand" recounts. More than anything, what comes across is the profound admiration the producers have for the miners. Not merely for their physical prowess, but their attitude, humor, political activism, and education. While things have changed, as they point out on "Today, Safety Is the Prime Factor," some things remain the same: the endurance of the miners themselves, and the extreme physical conditions. Even as they were making the radio ballad, however, things were changing. Mines were closing, and a whole industry was dying. This was far form its last hurrah, but it stands as on ongoing celebration of some remarkable men.
Born: January 25, 1915 in Salford, England
Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s