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ED PICKFORD - Strange Lover Is A Coal Mine: The Mining Songs Of Ed Pickford

ED PICKFORD - Strange Lover Is A Coal Mine: The Mining Songs Of Ed Pickford
Hooky Mat Records HMR017

Ed Pickford has written many of the region’s most celebrated modern-day mining songs, but he's only very rarely been recorded singing any of them (although Ah Cud Hew did appear on The Iron Muse, the Topic 1993 CD compilation I mean and not the earlier collection bearing the same title…). And yet such is their quality and longevity that a considerable number of them have been eagerly taken up by other singers – notably Dick Gaughan, but also Stu Luckley, Bob Davenport, Bob Fox, Tom McConville and Alistair Russell, and various groups ranging from Battlefield Band, Pegleg Ferret and The Exiles to Whisky Priests, The Paperboys and The Dropkick Murphys, not to mention a host of humble floor singers down to yours-truly! Oh, and Ewan MacColl was even known to sing Pound A Week Rise (which Ed himself never expected would last beyond its own time-frame!).

This record can therefore be regarded as something of a coup for Anthony Robb, whose mother Lily had for some time been an admirer of Ed’s songs. Anthony eventually managed to persuade Ed to record a selection of these for the Robb family; however, when the potential appeal of this collection was realised, it was decided that it would be usefully marketed as a small-run release with all proceeds from its sale going to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation for the early detection of cancers.

And yes, it’s really good to have Ed’s definitive renditions of his own songs enshrined for posterity here (for I’m not sure where you’d catch Ed singing these days, or whether the Tuesday afternoon Jesmond sessions Ed used to frequent prior to Lily’s death are still running). Five of the dozen songs (One Miner’s Life, The Devil In The Dust, Farewell Johnny Miner, Ah Cud Hew and The Workers’ Song) are performed unaccompanied, the remaining seven (which include Durham Big Meeting, I Am Coal, The T-Shirts And The Blood, and the disc’s title song) with his own guitar accompaniment. It’s a shame that the collection isn’t quite complete as regards Ed’s existing corpus of mining songs – two of those he penned at or shortly after the 1985 strike, Heads Held High and Crumpled Mac, are absent, for instance – but we’ve no serious cause for complaint; we need just be grateful that this recording exists and that it’s being made available for purchase in aid of so worthy a cause.

David Kidman


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This album was reviewed in Issue 95 of The Living Tradition magazine.