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Mining Review 11/1: The Row Between the Cages (1957)


Main image of Mining Review 11/1: The Row Between the Cages (1957)
Mining Review 11th Year No. 1: Songs of the Coalfields 6 - 'The Row Between the Cages'
35mm, black and white, 2 mins
Production CompanyData Film Productions
SponsorNational Coal Board

Ewan MacColl performs a nineteenth-century Newcastle song by Thomas Armstrong, the colliery bard.

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Unquestionably, North East England was the richest, most indisputably authentic home of industrial folksong and of coalmining ballads in particular. And Thomas Armstrong (1848-1919), 'the Tanfield Colliery poet', was its great hero. Come All Ye Bold Miners, 1952's great anthology of coalfield ballads, concluded with Armstrong's "The Row Between the Cages", justly implying that this was as good as mining songs could get. The tale of two fightable colliers who don't always play by Queensberry Rules, has the lot: demotic language, humour, an affectionate humanity, an artfulness that's entirely self-effacing but absolutely there. Above all a sense of real, lived experience shared by singer and listener: as fine a pragmatic definition of folksong as you'll find.

So when Mining Review came to do its own six "Songs of the Coalfields", the song was the only must-choose. Rather like the book, it was the last of the six to be released. As the concluding item in Mining Review 11th Year No. 1, it followed some rather more typical stories, about hydraulic props, a Scottish mine's in-house hydro-electric plant and the printing and photographic departments at Hobart House, the NCB's London HQ. With Ewan MacColl at the microphone, and a cast of on-screen Geordies who'd have been deeply familiar with the song, it's done with the grace, good humour and casual, almost careless craftsmanship it so deserves.

Patrick Russell

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Video Clips
Complete film (2:06)
Complete newsreel (8:58)
Mining Review: 11th Year (1957-58)
Songs of the Coalfields