Link to Living Tradition Homepage






Private Label  CDHS09

The extraction of ironstone from the nearby Eston and Cleveland hills gave rise to the iron and steel making industry in the part of Teesside around Middlesbrough: the town’s name was almost changed to Ironopolis to reflect its success in this regard! This themed project charts the rise and fall of Ironopolis over 110 years, journeying through its landscape (and people) in the company of the industrial songs of Graeme Miles.

As readers will I’m sure be aware, Graeme is unquestionably one of the UK’s key folk songwriters; he penned literally hundreds of songs between 1950 and 1972, many of these based on direct personal experience of life and work in a variety of locations and disciplines including the ironstone industry. It’s fair to say that a goodly number of Graeme’s songs have become deservedly well-known through the championship both of top-name performers like Martyn Wyndham-Read, Vin Garbutt and The Wilson Family and talented “non-professional” performers like the nine comprising the Ironopolis Singers. For it’s almost a given nowadays that one can “visit any folk club in the UK and you will probably hear a Graeme Miles song being performed”.
Fair comment, although this isn’t the whole story, as far too many of his songs still remain largely unknown and/or unheard – and the unwavering personal mission of Kevin Hall (one of the region’s finest singers in his own right, and project director for Songs Of Ironopolis) is to bring a greater selection of Graeme’s songs firmly into the public arena: firstly through this themed presentation at festivals and clubs (with Graeme himself providing the linking narration) and now secondly through this double-CD (which includes Graeme making his first appearance on any officially-sanctioned recording).

The first thing to note is the tremendous conviction which all of the ensemble’s singers bring to their performances, and their evident great pride in being involved with the project; they clearly believe wholeheartedly in the songs and possess the ability to accurately convey their intrinsic character, that trademark (and very special combination) of affection and realism that pervades Graeme’s writing. Although the ensemble team work is powerful, I’d single out some outstanding individual song renditions which so captivatingly conjure the atmosphere of Graeme’s lyric poetry, whether in pensive mode on the reflective rural idyll of The Time I’ve Been Away (Ailsa MacKenzie), the wistful memory of The Wrecking Gangs (Marion Hall) and the beautiful, personal heartache of When The Tees Ran Warm (Alex Angel), or ebullient comic mode on the gutsy Foundry Yard Battle (Sandra Hall) and the uproarious Iron Moulder’s Wedding (Colin Mather et al.), or recounting the gritty realism of working life on Hewin’ For The Ore (Kevin Hall & Mick Madden).

These songs are distinctive creations, steeped in folk tradition and heavy with contemporary resonance and relevance, and classics of their kind. Perhaps the most well-loved of these is Ring Of Iron, which here appears appended to Graeme’s evocative poem and is persuasively sung by Sandra, Marion and Ailsa. But a large number of the other songs will be unfamiliar even to devotees of Graeme’s writing (the performing editions for some of the items in this project having being sourced directly from Graeme’s own early recordings), and I’m sure that this venture will stimulate further interest in the unearthing and performance of many more hitherto-undiscovered gems from within Graeme’s treasure-chest.

The majority of the 21 songs on these two discs are rendered acappella, with isolated examples sporting a simple but effective instrumental accompaniment (Celtic harp, guitar, banjo or concertina). The whole sequence is cannily assembled and well-coordinated, with Graeme’s essential linking passages working perfectly to provide the necessary context to enable the ensuing songs to work their magic (although perhaps it would have been a good idea to provide separate bands or cues for these too). Graeme’s links seem to have been recorded in a more close-miked, precise acoustic setting than the songs, but this doesn’t seriously disturb the spell that the continuous performance weaves. The recording ambience of the songs varies too, with some items having a slightly flat quality and needing a hint more bloom, but this is a minor issue and not everyone will consider this a drawback or even notice. For the whole package is attractively designed and well mastered. Playing time isn’t over-generous (would it not have been cheaper to produce if the two 39-minute discs had been fitted onto one lasting just under 79 minutes?), but I’m not complaining when the whole set is available for just the price of a single CD.

David Kidman

Secure On-line mailorder service
Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 88 of The Living Tradition magazine.