ADD: The Big Hewer (Ewan MacColl) To Thread - Forum Home

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ADD: The Big Hewer (Ewan MacColl)

19 Jul 01 - 12:40 PM (#510381)
Subject: The big hewer
From: TamthebamfraeScotland

Hello My name is Tom,

I'm looking for the words to a song called the big hewer, I think that it was recored by Ewan McColl.


19 Jul 01 - 06:41 PM (#510761)
Subject: Lyr Add: THE BIG HEWER (Ewan MacColl)
From: jacko@nz

THE BIG HEWER
(Ewan MacColl, 1960)

Out of the dirt and darkness I was born, go down
Out of the hard black coalface I was torn, go down
Kicked on the world and the earth split open
Crawled through a crack where the rock was broken
Burrowed a hole, away in the coal, go down

In a cradle of coal in the darkness I was laid, go down
Down in the dirt and darkness I was raised, go down
Cut me teeth on a five-foot timber
Held up the roof with my little finger
Started me time away in the mine, go down

On the day that I was born I was six feet tall, go down
And the very next day I learned the way to haul, go down
On the third day worked at board and pillar
Worked on the fourth as a long-wall filler
Getting me steam up, hewing the seam, go down

I'm the son of the son of the son of a collier's son, go down
Coal dust runs in the veins where the blood should run, go down
Five steel ribs and an iron backbone
Teeth that can bite through rock and blackstone
Working me time, away in the mine, go down

Three hundred years I hewed at the coal by hand, go down
In the pits of Durham and East Northumberland, go down
Been gassed and burned and blown asunder
Buried more times than I can number
Getting the coal, away in the hole, go down

I've scrabbled and picked at the face where the roof was low, go down
Crawled in the seams where only a mole could go, go down
In the thin-cut seams I've ripped and redded
Where even the rats are born bow-legged
Winning the coal, away in the hole, go down

I've worked in the Hutton, the Plessey, the Brockwell Seam, go down
The Bensham, the Busty, the Beaumont, the Marshall Green, go down
I've lain on me back in the old three-quarter
Up to the chin in stinking water
Hewing the coal, away in the hole, go down

In the northern pits I've sweated and earned me pay, go down
Toiled in the worn-out drift mines night and day, go down
Where the anthracite is hard and shining
I've tried me hand at the hard-rock mining
I dug a hole away in the coal, go down


Out of the dirt and darkness I was born, go down
Out of the hard black coal-face I was torn, go down
Lived in the shade of the high pit heap
I'm still down there where the seams are deep
Digging a hole, away in the coal, go down

Grand song, have fun

Jack


    Note from Joe Offer. The lyrics in this past are almost exactly the same as the lyrics on PP154-55 of The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook (Oak Publications, 2001). The Songbook does not contain the verse in italics, but that verse is on MacColl's recording on the New Briton Gazette album, volume 2 (Folkways FW 8734)

MacColl Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8t4VdqpQZ4


19 Jul 01 - 06:49 PM (#510764)
Subject: Chords Add: THE BIG HEWER
From: jacko@nz

My chord progression goes:

Am D E Am
Em Am E
C
E Am G Am
Dm Am Dm e Am
V Jack


20 Jul 01 - 06:57 AM (#511084)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: TamthebamfraeScotland

Thank you everybody that gave me the words and chords.


20 Jul 01 - 07:56 AM (#511098)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: Wolfgang

one addition: not only recorded but also written by Ewan McColl

Wolfgang


20 Jul 01 - 08:49 AM (#511116)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: IanC

Yeh, Wolfgang. From The Radio Ballad of the same name.

Cheers!
Ian


21 Jul 01 - 07:35 AM (#511881)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: CET

Thanks for the lyrics. I transcribed this song from the singing of Ian Robb on "From Different Angels", but I was never able to figure out some of the place names and mining terms.

Is the Big Hewer somebody that Ewan MacColl created in this song, or is he a mythical figure in English folklore, a la Paul Bunyan? Ian Robb's notes say the latter.

CET


21 Jul 01 - 01:52 PM (#512049)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: Anglo

Exactly what Ian said. If you want to follow it up, all the Radio Ballads (including The Big Hewer) have been released on Topic CDs. Well worth a listen if you missed them in the sixties (or whenever it was - memory fails).


23 Jul 01 - 08:30 PM (#512956)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: Susanne (skw)

Has anyone got the album 'The Bonnie Pit Laddie' and could copy out the notes for us? I know there were lengthy notes but I've lost the friend who had the album and can't get at them now.


23 Jul 01 - 11:03 PM (#513058)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: jacko@nz

'The Hewer' and 'The Big Hewer' are not the same song

Jack


24 Jul 01 - 09:40 AM (#513327)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: Wolfgang

I'll have a look, Susanne.

Wolfgang


25 Jul 01 - 05:05 AM (#514080)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: Wolfgang

Jack's right, on 'BOnnie pit laddie' is only 'The Hewer', a different song.

Wolfgang


25 Jul 01 - 06:17 AM (#514096)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: GeorgeH

CET - the best answer to your question is for you to go out and purchase "The Big Hewer" and decide for yourself! (You might also get "Singing the Fishing" and "The Ballad of John Axton" at the same time; you are unlikely to be disappointed!).

However, to try to answer your question,the "Big Hewer" was the creation of MacColl (or, possibly, the Radio Ballads team).

The Radio Ballads were made by recording ordinary people; hours of interviews for each ballad. These interviews were then intersperced with songs and music, largely composed especially to accompany the "Ballad". The intention was to present a portrait of "extraordinary 'ordinary' people", mainly in their own words.

At the time they were revolutionary in allowing people to speak in their own voices; prior to then it would be usual to have an announcer (complete with BBC English) "report" the voice of the people. Indeed, I would say there are many ways in which the Radio Ballads laid the foundation for "Documentaries" as we know them today (whether on Radio or Television). Also, artisticly, the best of them still stand up very well today.

George


25 Jul 01 - 06:51 AM (#514100)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler

I think I'm right (there's always a first time) that MacColl took memorable phrases and sentences from the recorded ordinary people to spark off or weave into the lyrics of the radio ballads.If you can't afford the full Ballads ,the Big Hewer appears on one of his other records, possibly the Angry Muse?
RtS (not at home, can't check)


25 Jul 01 - 10:10 AM (#514212)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: GeorgeH

What I think you're referring to, Roger, is the way that snippets of "actuality" were cut into the songs. The recording of "Shoals of Herring" with these interjections from Sam Larner has been included in a number of compilations at different times. There may be instances where phrases from the informants were incorporated into the songs MacColl wrote for the Ballads, but they don't exactly spring into my mind . .

BTW these extracts were quite literally cut into the song recordings . . the Ballads were edited by the old technique of cutting the recorded tapes with a razor blade and splicing them together . . .

[Unlike the interview heard recently on Radio 3 where some pretentious US composer claimed to have been literally torn in two by a dichotomy (or some such) between minimalism and heavy metal . . He was so unintentionally absurd we just had to give up listening to him . . .]


25 Jul 01 - 10:28 AM (#514228)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler

....and I think the compilation/selection record I'm thinking of was on a budget label "Golden Hour" or "Best of", but as it's at home...I thought I'd read somewhere (sleeve notes?) an example where he said (words to the effect) "X said Y and it was such a wonderful phrase that called out to be turned into a song".
Not that it matters, still powerful listening.
RtS (Damn CRS)


23 Mar 02 - 02:50 PM (#674916)
Subject: The Big Hewer
From: GUEST,Gloucesterman

Anyone have the lyrics to this Ewan McColl song the Big Hewer? It's a great song. I have most of them but they certainly bear checking. Thanks.


23 Mar 02 - 08:53 PM (#675104)
Subject: Lyr Add: THE BIG HEWER (Ewan McColl)
From: Barry Finn

Hi Gloucesterman, ya got good taste. I copied this from old thread. Always been real fond of this one. Enjoy.

THE BIG HEWER

Out of the dirt and darkness I was born, go down
Out of the hard black coalface I was torn, go down
Kicked on the world and the earth split open
Crawled through a crack where the rock was broken
Burrowed a hole, away in the coal, go down

In a cradle of coal in the darkness I was laid, go down
Down in the dirt and darkness I was raised, go down
Cut me teeth on a five-foot timber
Held up the roof with my little finger
Started me time away in the mine, go down

On the day that I was born I was six feet tall, go down
And the very next day I learned the way to haul, go down
On the third day worked at board and piller
Worked on the fourth as a long-wall filler
Getting me steam up, hewing the seam, go down

I'm the son of the son of the son of a collier's son, go down
Coal dust runs (I think it's "flows") in the veins where the blood should run, go down
Five steel ribs and an iron backbone
Teeth that can bite through rock and blackstone
Working me time, away in the mine, go down

Three hundred years I hewed at the coal by hand, go down
In the pits of Durham and East Northumberland, go down
Been gassed and burned and blown asunder
Buried more times than I can number
Getting the coal, away in the hole,go down

I've scrabbled and picked at the face where the roof was low, go down
Crawled in the("through"?) seams where only a mole could go, go down
In the thin-cut seams I've ripped and redded
Where even the rats are born bow-legged
Winning the coal, away in the hole, go down

I've worked in the Hutton, the Plessey,("and"?) the Brockwell Seam, go down
The Bensham, the Busty, the Beaumont, the Marshall Green, go down
I've lain on me back in the old three-quarter
Up to the chin in stinking water
Hewing the coal, away in the hole, go down

In the northern pits I've sweated and earned me pay, go down
Toiled in the worn-out drift mines night and day, go down
Where the anthracite is hard and shining
I've tried me hand at the hard-rock mining
I dug a hole away in the coal, go down

Out of the dirt and darkness I was born, go down
Out of the hard black coal-face I was torn, go down
Lived in the shade of the high pit heap
I'm still down there where the seams are deep
Digging a hole, away in the coal, go down

I've put in ( ) a few words as the way I remember it but it's been quite a while. Good Luck. On an aside, thanks for the visit, it was quite a boost. Barry


24 Mar 02 - 04:16 AM (#675253)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Big Hewer
From: Hrothgar

Verse 3, line 3: "bord and pillar" - a method of mining that involved digging out an area of coal and leaving pillars of coal to hold up the roof (I think - open to correction).

Verse 4, Line 2: "flows"

Verse 6, Line 2: "Crawled in the seams"

Verse 7, Line 1: "the Plessey, the Brockwell Seam"

Picky, picky.

Reference:"Ewan MacColl Peggy Seeger Songbook," Oak Publications, New York, 1963


24 Mar 02 - 09:03 AM (#675334)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Big Hewer
From: GUEST,Gloucesterman

Thanks all. I'm in the process of ordering the book but I couldn't wait. I've got a song on, as they say. David.


25 May 21 - 04:43 AM (#4107492)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: GUEST,jim bainbridge

To answer CET from 20 years ago (!) I think I said this before but MacColl picked up the phrase 'Big Hewer' from his time with the Elliotts of Birtley in 1960. His vist resulted in the Folkways (cardboard cover) LP of the family songs.
The Big Hewer was a legendary figure in Durham with legendary powers- reflected later in MacColl's song. Jack & brother Reece had stories about the Hig Hewer probably too earthy & not literary enough for inclusion in the later song.
One story was that the BH had a huge appetite & would eat six chops while waiting for his dinner. Also if he was hungry while down the pit, he would just pull out a few steel rivets from a coal tub & chew on them.

I make no judgment on MacColl's song (there be dragons) but if you have a genuine interest in songs of the Durham miners, you'd do better listening to the Elliotts instead.


25 May 21 - 01:02 PM (#4107550)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: GUEST,Guest

Just to add a bit more info

The Big Hewer type figure is not peculiar just to County Durham - it’s part of British Folklore that some one asked about in an earlier post.

The Elliots sometimes used the expression” The County Durham Big Hewer” and Ewan picked up on this and used it in the Radio Ballad. Other mining areas also had similar heroic figures - Isaac Lewis from the Welsh coalfields, Jackie Tor from the Midlands fields,, and others. If I remember correctly they were mentioned in the Radio Ballad Ewan was one of the first to bring these characters to a wider audience.

Some of the recordings made with miners and their family still exist and make fascinating listening and in addition to the earthy stories that Jim Bainbridge mentions above there are some lovely funny tales of how the miners dealt with the dangers of mining including death. The reason that some of the stuff wasn’t included in the Radioo Ballad was not because it was too earthy or not literate enough - it was just there was too much material for a one hour programme and that there were dozens and dozen of hours of recordings. Charles Parker( the producer) and Ewan had a very deep respect for “literacy” of the miners( and other working class contributors to the Radio Ballads.

We should all be grateful for this contribution that Ewan made to British cultural life.

Ach. I think I’ll away and listen to the ballad now. I can already hear the start - the sound of the drilling machine, then a lovely Welsh voice saying “when you hew a lump coal......”

If you haven’t listened to the Radio Ballads the you haven’t lived. Do yourself a favour.

Enjoy

Bob Blair


25 May 21 - 01:19 PM (#4107552)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: GUEST,jim bainbridge

Thats interesting Bob- i didn't say the Big Hewer was peculiar to Durham- I know there are parallels in other places- only that his time with the Elliotts gave rise to the ballad title, as 'CET' asked in 2001.

You obviously are a great admirer of MacColl and I'd certainly acknowlege his contribution to the tradition. However, I do know that the Elliotts develpoed a hearty dislike of the man, whatever his achievements in drama and literacy.
I'll leave it at that


25 May 21 - 03:36 PM (#4107564)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: GUEST,#

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf7LuLSJBLM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf7LuLSJBLM

There's recording of The Big Hewer (Radio Ballad)


26 May 21 - 03:43 PM (#4107681)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: GUEST,Guest Bob Blair

Thanks for posting the link Guest.#

Now any one who cares can listen to the programme

Bob Blair


26 May 21 - 03:51 PM (#4107683)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The big hewer
From: GUEST,#

Most welcome, Bob. For anyone interested, eight of them are available on YouTube at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qpQoLE21Js&list=PLPDCrD_igZmvsd7bvrZSWm4V9BIg2qrUH

(See right-hand side of the page that opens.)