The Pitmen Poets performing their Night Of Songs And Stories: Their Farewell Tour at The Palace Theatre Mansfield on Sunday 20th October 2019

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

For decades coal mining was the backbone of the UK economy and in many regions including the North of England, Midlands, Wales and Scotland hundreds of thousands of people were employed in the industry. But by 2015, every single underground mine had been closed.

The task of keeping the coal mining legacy alive with stories of the unofficial strikes in 1969 and 1984, the hardships of being a miner, and the effect that this industry had upon families is left to The Pitmen Poets; a band of four men who belonged to the first generation of their north eastern families not to work down the mines.

And last night at the Palace Theatre in Mansfield, a former mining community itself, ex – Lindisfarne musician, front man, and song writer Billy Mitchell, Jez Lowe the much covered BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards nominee songwriter, War Horse song man Bob Fox and Benny Graham, the leading exponent of Tyneside songs took up the mantle to keep their ancestors stories alive with humour, humanity and song.

Made easier because of their natural banter and effortless rapport with the audience, The Pitmen Poets took a trip down memory lane and with their engaging stories, entranced the crowd. Having earlier this year released an album of live songs there was the magnificent Shiftin’ To The Toon, Lowe’s affectionate, comical and absolutely hilarious The Ex-Pitmen’s Potholing Pub Quiz Team and Graham’s awesome Trimdon Grange Explosion.

Each song had its own story and each was as interesting and funny as the last. A sing-along was encouraged throughout the set, especially on Graham’s Stanley Market which had the Palace Theatre in full voice. Pitman And The Blackin’ was a story about polishing pit boots, and The Judas Bus about how working miners ran the gauntlet of those that were striking.

Finishing the main set with Coal Mountain, they admitted that it would take them twenty minutes to go off stage and return for an encore, so they remained seated for the relevant and poignant, Farewell Johnny Miner which brought a thoroughly entertaining and humorous evening to an end and earned them a well deserved standing ovation, not just for their songs but for their excellent musicianship.

With The Pitmen Poets finally hanging up their touring boots, one has to wonder who will make sure that the tales of the mining community and the hardship of the year long unofficial strike in 1984 which ultimately saw the demise of the coal industry will be remembered. If there ever comes a time when someone asks, “what is a coal mine”, The Pitmen Poets stories and songs will certainly be around to remind them.