Carols from the Coalfields
Background to the songs
Carols from the Coalfields was the title of a collection of poems published in 1886 by my great-great grandfather, Joseph Skipsey (1832-1903), a self-educated coal miner who became known as 'The Pitman Poet'. I have now set over 20 of his poems to music. Drawing on contemporary styles, such as music-hall and folk song, the songs offer a rich and varied picture of life in the mining communities, while describing issues and experiences that are still relevant today. I have recorded the songs on 3 CDs. You can find out more about the songs here. I can perform the songs as a programme in their own right, or alongside other relevant songs of the period.
I began working on the songs in the summer of 2010, with the idea of reviving interest in the poems of Joseph Skipsey, and bringing his work to new audiences. So far I have set over 20 of the poems and there are still a few more in the pipeline. For some, I have composed tunes that draw on 19th-century folk and music-hall styles, while others have a more contemporary feel.
I am also starting to perform the Skipsey songs alongside other material, including other songs of the period. Joseph's father, Cuthbert Skipsey, was one of two people killed during the miners' strike of 1832 and I have written a song describing these events. The song The Blackleg Miner, possibly dating from the strikes of 1844, mentions places with which both Joseph and his father would have been familiar - (Seaton) Delaval, Seghill. Joseph Skipsey was a contemporary of other Tyneside and pitman songwriters, including Ned Corvan (1829-65), Geordie Ridley (1835-64), Joe Wilson (1841-75) and Tommy Armstrong (1848-1920). Geordie Ridley's description of The Blaydon Races is set in 1862, the same year as the Hartley Calamity which gave rise to Skipsey's famous poem. Ned Corvan wrote a series of songs about emigration to Australia, which complement Skipsey's correspondence with Willie Reay.
To find out more about the life and work of Joseph Skipsey, please click here.
For reviews of some of the recordings & performances, please click here