So often described as ’the music of the people’ folk music has traditionally documented the social and political situation of the times through the medium of song.
In 2006, the BBC marked the 50th anniversary of the first Radio Ballads project by commissioning a further 6-part series, documenting six of the biggest issues which have dominated the British landscape since the 1950s. Now digitally reissued, the episodes have been released exactly as they were broadcast - interviews and sound-bites combined with original compositions to paint a picture of modern British society.
For the purposes of this review, I have loosely connected the themes into two parts. The first concentrating on the overt conflict and the second on the hidden or private battles faced by society today.
The Miners weren’t the only industry to rise up against the privatisation enforced by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s. The Sheffield & Rotherham steel industry also felt the force of her blows, reducing the industry to a tenth of its size in three decades. In the ’Song of Steel’ the Radio Ballads focus on the decline of this industry, both in the economic sense and the social ramifications which followed.
’Vulcan and Lucifer’ pits Thatcher and McGregor (the man held responsible for breaking both the Steel Workers & the Miners’ strikes) against the Devil himself. A mournful lament, the iconic sound of a brass band resonates with the testimonies of the workers as they describe their experiences 1981 strike and the following decline of the industry that they had previously seen as a ’job for life’.
As with all the Radio Ballads, ’The Song of Steel’ provides an intimate insight into the decline of the UK’s Steel Industry and paints a poignant picture of how uncertain life has been for so many in the latter half of the 20th Century.Mary Stokes
Originally recorded for the BBC in 2006 and released on CD on 04/09/2006. Re-released digitally by Delphonic Records on 02/03/2010. Part of a series of six plays, volume one deals with the decline of the Sheffield and Rotherham steel industries.
1. Introduction - Vince Hunt
2. Valley of the Kings - John Tams
3. The Rainbow Hornpipe - Andy Cutting
4. Steelos - John Tams
5. It’s Curtains - Kate Rusby
6. Muckey River - John Tams
7. The Price - Barry Coope
8. Crane Driver - Julie Matthews
9. Fireland - John Tams
10. Beer Notes - Lester Simpson
11. The big forge - Don Valley Steelworkers
12. Vulcan and Lucifer - Barry Coope
13. Valley of the Kings part II - John Tams
14. Unity - John Tams