📷 by Hamish Macleod
“Digging into the Politics and Poetry of Ayrshire Mining Communities.”
Fixed Assets is an album collaborating with Lallans Scots poet Rab Wilson and explores the lives of Ayrshire coal miners. The idea for the album came about in 2016 after I was commissioned by Celtic Connections to write a piece of music for their New Voices concert series. The music was based on the subject of Ayrshire coal mining and the industries surrounding that.
I had briefly met Rab Wilson some years prior to that at a festival in Muirkirk run by John Moran (Deaf Shepherd) called The John Lapraik festival. The festival is a celebration of the work of Muirkirk poet John Lapraik (1727 – 1807) as well as other poets from Muirkirk and the surrounding area. After hearing Rab perform at the festival I knew that he would be the person to contact when looking for Ayrshire mining themed material in my own native Lallans Scots.
If this collaboration already seems like the ‘folkiest’ thing you’ve heard of in recent times, consider that along with growing up speaking this language, I also apprenticed as a mechanical engineer at Allenwest Wallacetown which, in years past, provided much of the equipment for the miners who are the focus of these poems, stories and songs; that my grandfathers both worked in the mines; and that Rab Wilson left the pits in 1984 following the Miner’s Strike, after his apprenticeship with the National Coal Board.
“The wheel o village life spun roond the Pit, When they taen awa’ the hub, that wis it.”
Although the prevailing memory of deep coal mining will always be the miners strike and the devastating effects of pit closures by the Conservative Party, I have tried to convey some of the good times and the sense of pride and community associated with the work. Ex miners always say that they would do anything for each other, absolutely anything. Everyone would know what everyone was up to, they’d look after each other’s kids. If someone was ill, they’d be completely taken care of. They really look back fondly at this time and community.
Regarding the strike poet Rab Wilson pulls no punches in describing the situation.
“In reality the 1984-’85 Miners’ Strike was a civil war. Tearing communities and families apart. The scars from this war are still with us today,”
“The few deep coal mines that survived the 1984-’85 Strike were condemned to a slow lingering death. By the year 2000, the vast majority of mines had closed and only a handful remained; the last deep mine in Britain, Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire, closed in 2015. It is highly unlikely that coal mining will ever be revived as a viable industry in the UK. Attitudes to fossil fuels have completely changed. Worldwide targets on pollution mean that human reliance on carbon-based energy sources will, in the very near future, become a thing consigned to the dustbin of history.”
It is my hope that Fixed Assets helps to preserve some of the history of Ayrshire coal mining. The only way to do this effectively, and to represent the miners and communities honestly, was to do so in their own native Scots language. A living breathing language.