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Blackleg Miner is a 19th-century English folk song, originally from Northumberland (as can be deduced from the dialect in the song and the references in it to the villages of Seghill and Seaton Delaval).
It is not entirely clear how old the song is, although it is thought to have been written either in the late 19th or early 20th century. Richard Thompson, who released a version of it in 2006, dates it as early as the first half of the 19th century. However, if this was true, it must have been translated into more modern English, as the lyrics would not have been part of the language of 19th-century Northumberland.
The lyrics, which are traditional, depict the determined, uncompromising stance against strikebreakers adopted by unionized strikers - the term blackleg being an older word for scab. (The mining sector in the UK was always heavily unionised and strikes could cause bitterness both within and between pit communities, but more often gave rise to expressions of solidarity such as sympathy strikes by other pits, material assistance such as food, and a feeling of belonging to a proud and powerful community of workers.)
For a period in the 1960s and 1970s, the song's uncompromising lyrics were appreciated for their directness and militancy by many young people radicalized by the student rebellions of 1968, and the song was often sung at folk music societies. The hard-fought UK miners' strike (1984–85) showed how relevant the song still was as a depiction of the anger and detestation felt by strikers against strike-breakers who continued to work and thus showed more solidarity with the mine owners and government than with their fellow-workers. (Among unionized workers strikebreaking is considered as hostile a violation of trust as mutiny and treason are considered by governments and military leaders.)
Thereafter, playing the song became a political statement in support of the strike and some folk clubs avoided the song due to its description of violence used by others than the army and the police. This was counterbalanced by an increase in bands that played the song. The best-known version was by Steeleye Span, who played the song in Nottingham-- an area that had seen a lot of strikebreaking violence during the strike—in 1986.
Other artists to have played this song include the Ian Campbell Folk Group, the High Level Ranters, Highland Reign, the Houghton Weavers, Broom Bezzums, Ryan's Fancy,the New Minstrel Revue, Blue Horses, New Celeste, FinTan, Duo Noir, Cameron Muir, Smoky Finish and Clatterbone, Len Wallace, John Maggs, Seven Nations, Sol Invictus, Louis Killen, the Angelic Upstarts as well as Richard Thompson, Ewan MacColl, Dick Gaughan, Aengus Finnan, Jon Boden, Maddy Prior, Andy Wainwright,John Hewitt, The Inchtabokatables, Banjax, Eric Fish, The Dixie Bee-Liners, Settlers Match and David Wrench with The Black Sheep.
It's in the evening after dark,
When the blackleg miner creeps to work,
With his moleskin pants and dirty shirt,
There goes the blackleg miner!
Well he takes his tools and doon he goes
To hew the coal that lies below,
There's not a woman in this town-row
Will look at the blackleg miner.
Oh, Delaval is a terrible place.
They rub wet clay in the blackleg's face,
And around the heaps they run a foot race,
To catch the blackleg miner!
So, dinna gan near the Seghill mine.
Across the way they stretch a line,
To catch the throat and break the spine
Of the dirty blackleg miner.
They grab his duds and his pick as well,
And they hoy them down the pit of hell.
Doon ye go, and fare ye well,
You dirty blackleg miner!
So join the union while you may.
Don't wait till your dying day,
For that may not be far away,
You dirty blackleg miner!
- "David Wrench/Black Sheep — Spades & Hoes & Plows". Headheritage.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-09-02.