Scots Sangs Fur Schools

Traditional and new Scots songs for use in Scottish schools

  Work SONGS - Coalmining

The most popular Scots coalmining song for schools is Matt McGin''s Coorie Doon.  To hear it and see the words press here.    

 

Scroll down for song lyrics of Collier Laddie [a very old beautiful song of love], The Little Collier Slave [till 1799 Scottish colliers were slaves], My Collier Sweetheart [a song about a 1921 pit disaster in Plean beside Stirling], and Working At The Washing Rake [a girl laments her hard work at the pithead].

 The site Collier Tracks has many more Scottish coalmining song lyrics and information about them. Press here.

For information and some new songs about coalmining and disability press here. 

[To see more lyrics about Coalmining made with schools classes press here.

NOTE

Lanarkshire songwriter Billy Stewart has written a whole album of fine songs about coalmining, including THE GARRIONGILL, TWELVE FOOT DOWN AND DROPPING, JIMMY DID YOU HEAR, and OLD KING COLE.

To contact him go to http://www.billystewart.co.uk/  

 

SONG LYRICS 

COLLIER LADDIE
Traditional
I've traivelled east and I've traivelled west
And I hae been tae Kirkcaldy,
But the bonniest lass that e'er I spied
She was followin her collier laddie.

‘O whaur live ye my bonnie lass?
Come tell me what they caa ye.’
‘Bonnie Jean Gordon is my name,
And I'm following ma collier laddie.’

See ye not yon high high hills
That the sun shines on sae brawly?
They are mine and they shall be thine,
Gin ye'll leave yer collier laddie.’

‘Though ye had aa the sun shines on,
And the earth conceals sae lowly,
l wad turn my back on you and yours
And follow my collier laddie.’

Then he has gane to her faither dear,
To her faither gane sae brawly;
Says: ’Will ye gie me your bonnie, bonnie lass
That's followin' a collier laddie?’

Her faither then he vowed and swore:
‘Though he be black he's bonnie;
She's mair delight in him, I fear,
Than in you wi' a' your money.’

‘O, I can win my five pennies a day,
And spend it at nicht fu brawly,
And I'll mak my bed in the collier's neuk
And lie doon wi my collier laddie.

‘Love for love is the bargain for me,
Though the wee cot-hoose should haud me,
And the world before me to win my breid,
And fair faa my collier laddie.

 

 

THE LITTLE COLLIER SLAVE
By Ewan McVicar
Tune The Handloom Weaver and the Factory Maid

 
I'm a handloom spinner, and my tale is sad
I fell in love with a collier lad
My father slighted him and his, and so
I went to live down in the Collier's Row

My mother tore her hair and wrung her hands
She cried aloud to hear the wedding banns
But still she helped me when my time had come
And I brought forth my little collier son

My little collier, born to be a slave
To wear his master's collar and be brave
To delve below the ground all alone
And listen every day for falling stone.


Until 1799 Scottish colliers were slaves, they and their families could not leave their employment.

 


MY COLLIER SWEETHEART
By East Plean P5 with Ewan McVicar
TUNE: William Taylor

My mother said I could not have a collier,
If I did it would break her heart.
I didn't care what my mother told me,
I had a collier for my sweetheart.

But one day up Cadger's Loan,
A siren screamed at Pit Four Head.
All of Plean ran to find out,
How many living? How many dead?

Lowsing time in the Carbrook Dook.
The young shotfirer fired his shot.
Dynamite blew up the section,
Twelve lads dead, seventy caught.

Their holiday bags were lying waiting,
The men were lying down below.
The wee canaries, they died too,
Salty tears in the sad Red Rows.

The young shotfirer had no certificate.
My young collier gave his life.
Fate was cruel to my sweetheart,
And I will never be a wife.

A local tragedy. The class was studying their local history. Ewan McVicar’s grandfather, Hugh Reynolds, felt the 1921 explosion from where he was hewing in the pit next door.

 


 
WORKING AT THE WASHING RAKE
By Ewan McVicar
Tune Original

When you work at the washing rake
Picking out stones while your fingernails break
Your hair gets grubby and your muscles ache
Working at the washing rake

Up at the big house, I've been told
Are fine young ladies decked in gold
Dining on tea and cake
Not like here at the washing rake

Take take take me away
Over the hills and far off
Take take take me to where
I can't hear old miners cough

Broken old miners, cheeky young boys
Noise and dirt, dirt and noise
God have pity, come and take me
Far away from the washing rake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blantyre Explosion
A tragic song of a young man killed in the coal pit and a young girl left lamenting.

By Clyde’s bonny banks as I sadly did wander,
Amang the pit heaps, as evening drew nigh,
I spied a fair maiden all dressed in deep mourning,
A weeping and wailing, with many a sigh.

I stepped up beside her, and thus I addressed her,
“Pray tell me, fair maid, of your trouble and pain.”
Sobbing and sighing, at last she did answer.
“Johnny Murphy, kind sir, was my true lover’s name.

“Twenty one years of age, full of youth and good looking,
To work down the mines of High Blantyre he came.
The wedding was fixed, all the guests were invited,
That calm summer’s evening young Johnny was slain.

“The explosion was heard, all the women and children
With pale anxious face made haste to the mine.
The news was made known, the hills rang with their mourning.
Two hundred and ten young miners were slain.

“Now children and wives, and sweethearts and parents,
That Blantyre explosion they’ll never forget.
And all you young miners who hear my sad story,
Shed a tear for the victims who’re laid to their rest."

On the 22nd October 1877 over two hundred miners were killed in a disaster at Dixon’s Colliery, High Blantyre, near Hamilton. This song was made about the tragedy. There is an annual march in Blantyre to commemorate the disaster.
There are other Scottish songs about mining disasters. ‘The Donibristle Moss Moran Disaster’ happened in Fife in 1901, and ‘The Auchengeich Disaster’ which happened as recently as 1957 near Stepps on the outskirts of Glasgow, were also commemorated in song.
The Irish name of the girl’s ‘true lover’ in ‘The Blantyre Explosion’ is not surprising. Many Irishmen came over to Scotland in the 19th Century to work in the pits and to dig the canals, and stayed to marry and raise families. The singer Annie Cosgrove sang a different name for the lost love, Johnny MacPhee, and said she learned the song from from a relative of the girl who was to have married Johnny. A relative of Mrs Cosgrove’s husband was also killed in the explosion.

 

 

 

 

The Collier Lad
Collected by Stravaig member Phyllis Martin from 87 year old Agnes Mclean, a miner’s daughter, at Kirkconnel.

O the collier lad he’s my delight
He comforts me baith day and night
And though he’s black his money’s white
And ah dearly lo’e the collier o

O ma mither sent me tae the well
Tae get some water for ma tea
Ah tripped on a stane an doon ah fell
And a collier lad cam coortin me

O ah wish ah was a coillier’s wife
Then ah would live a happy life
A happy live as a collier’s wife
And a lang lie in the mornin o

Ma mither warned me awfu weel
A wee wee bag would haud ma meal
And we’d aa gae mairchin tae the deil
The day ah merrit a collier o

O the collier lad he’s my delight
He comforts me baith day and night
And though oor money’s aye been tight
Ah dearly lo’e ma collier o

 

 

 

 

 

Canny Miner Lad
(Ian Campbell)

It's up in the morning and out afore dawn
Wi' your moleskin breeks and your pitboots on
And the sleep in your eyes from the night just gone
He's a fine lad, a canny lad, the miner

It's out of the frost and up through the toon,
Wi' your breath like smoke in the morning gloom,
And you meet wi' your mates at the pithead soon,
He's a fine lad, a canny lad, the miner.

Ye have your last drag o' the day at the gate,
Then it's into the cage you crowd wi' your mates,
Then you drop like a stone to the dark and the heat,
He's a fine lad, a canny lad, the miner.

At first the road's good and you get a move on,
But nearer the face the seam narrows down,
And you're scabbing your back on the roof ere long,
He's a fine lad, a canny lad, the miner.

Whether you're hewing or filling the tub,
Or putting the trams backs along to the road,
It's a hellish hard way to earn your grub,
He's a fine lad, a canny lad, the miner.

There's dust in your eyes and your nose and your hair,
And you're sweating and striving and straining for air,
You've got corns on your hands and your knees rubbed bare,
He's a fine lad, a canny lad, the miner.

Now it's time for your bate, so you eat it and then
There's time for a few minutes crack wi' the men,
Then you're back on the job and you're sweating again,
He's a fine lad, a canny lad, the miner.

When you think you've worked all the hours God sends,
And you fear that you're likely to go round the bend,
Then it's time to come up and breathe fresh air again,
He's a fine lad, a canny lad, the miner.

copyright Melody Trails
From Joseph and Winter, New English Broadsides
SOF
oct97

The Auchengiech Disaster
Words Norman Buchan

Tune Skipping Barfit Through The Heather

In Auchengeich there stands a pit
The wheel above, it isna turnin
For on a grey Septmenber morn
The flames o Hell below were burnin

Though in below the coal lay rich
It’s richer noo, for aw that burnin
For forty seven brave men are dead
Tae wives and sweethearts ne’er returnin

The seams are thick in Auchengeich
The coal below is black and glistenin
But och, its cost is faur ower dear
For human lives there is nae reckonin

Oh better though we’d never wrocht
A thousand years o work an greivin
The coal is black like the mournin shroud
The women left behind arre weavin


The Fife Miner
By Sheila Douglas

Ma faither workit doun the pit
He wis gey prood o it
Tae dae ony ither wark wis niver his dream
Ilkie day o life that he gaed tae the seams

Chorus
There’s the wee pick, an the big pick
The knee-pads an the lamp-check
The helmet an the blue dust
Ingrained in his hauns
There’s the back shift, the early shift
Wi nae sign o sun or lift
Down in the roads whaur the Fife miner stuns

He wrocht hard, he wrocht lang
His days they were aye thrang
An when he cam hame, he wis tired fit tae drop
I mind how my mither toiled
Tae get plenty water boiled
For the tin bath an the wash tub
Tae clean him tae tae top

But these days are past an gane
Naethin is noo the same
The miner’s redundant, the pits aa awa
Afore my day is dune
I’ll be shair tae tell ma son
Aa the memories o the miner that I can recaa


An Old Verse
When I was engaged a coalbearer to be
When I was engaged a coalbearer to be
Through all the coal pits I maun wear the don brat [apron]
If my heart it should break I can never win free


The Collier Has A Dochter
Tune in Tone-Poetry of Burns
The collier has a dochter
And oh, she’s wonder bonnny
A laird he was that sought her
Rich baith in lands and money
She wadna hae a laird
Nor wad she be a lady
But she wad hae a collier
The colour o her daddie


O When She Cam Ben, She Bobbit Fu Law
Tune as title, part of lyric by Burns

O when she come ben she bobbit fu law
O when she come ben she bobbit fu law
O when she come ben she kissed Cockpen
And syne she denied she did it at aa

And was na Cockpen right saucy withaa
And was na Cockpen right saucy withaa
In leavin the cdochter o a lord
And kissin a collier lassie an aa

O never look down, my lassie, at aaa
O never look down, my lassie, at aaa
Thy lips are as sweet and thy figure complete
As the finest dame in castle or haa

Tho thou hast nae silk and holland sae sma
Tho thou hast nae silk and holland sae sma
Thy coat and thy sark are thine ain handywark
And Lady Jean was never sae braw

 

Other Scottish miners' songs you can look for include
The Colliers’ Eight Hour Day
The Donibristle Disaster
The Starlaw Disaster
Down In A Coal Mine
The Garriongill
The Pitman’s Union
The Model Village Plean
The Truck masters

Here are some lyrics by Fife miner poet and playwright Joe Corrie. He also wrote 'It's Fine Tae Keep In Wi The Gaffer'. These lyrics were set to music by Alan Reid of the Battlefield Band.

[1970:] Joe Corrie (1894-1968) [...] was a miner in the Fife and other coalpits, and his early poems became famous during the twenties largely through the old Glasgow socialist weekly, the 'Forward'. He is a genuine poet, and had considerable success also as working-class playwright. The fashion has passed for his work, and he lived in his declining years in straitened circumstances, and in ill-health. (Penguin Book of Scottish Verse 21)

MINERS' WIVES
(Words Joe Corrie / tune Alan Reid)
We have borne good sons to broken men
Nurtured them on our hungry breast
And given them to our masters when
Their day of life was at its best
We have dried their clammy clothes by the fire
Solaced them, tended them, cheered them well
Watched the wheels raising them from the mire
Watched the wheels lowering them to Hell
We have prayed for them in a Godless way
(We never could fathom the ways of God)
We have sung with them on their wedding day
Knowing the journey and the road
We have stood through the naked night to watch
The silent wheels that raised the dead
We have gone before to raise the latch
And lay the pillow beneath their head
We have done all this for our masters' sake
Did it in rags and did not mind
What more do they want? what more can they take?
Unless our eyes and leave us blind
(from The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse, 1970)

IMAGE OF GOD
(Words Joe Corrie / tune Alan Reid)
Crawlin' aboot like a snail in the mud
Covered wi' clammy blae
ME, made after the image o' God -
Jings! but it's laughable, tae
Howkin' awa' 'neath a mountain o' stane
Gaspin' for want o' air
The swweat makin' streams doon my bare back-banes
And my knees a' hauckit and sair
Strainin' and cursin' the hale shift through
Half-starved, half-blin', half-mad
And the gaffer he says, Less dirt in that coal
Or ye go up the pit, my lad
So I gie my life tae the Nimmo squad
For eicht and fower a day
Me! made after the image o' God -
Jings! but it's laughable, tae
(from The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse, 1970)
(I've no idea what the 'Nimmo squad' is, but I suspect it refers to a person important in the mining world, in the way people talk of the 'Beeching cuts' and 'Robens' merry men'.)


I AM THE COMMON MAN
(Words Joe Corrie / tune Alan Reid)
I am the Common Man
I am the brute and the slave
I am the fool, the despised
From the cradle to the grave
I am the hewer of coal
I am the tiller of soil
I am serf of the seas
Born to bear and to toil
I am the builder of halls
I am the dweller of slums
I am the filfth and the scourge
When winter's depression comes
I am the fighter of wars
I am the killer of men
Not for a day or an age
But again and again and again
I am the Common Man
But Masters of mine take heed
For you have put into my head
Oh! many a wicked deed
[1988:] The song began life as a poem by the late Joe Corrie. Alan put it to music, together with Miners' Wives, adapting the words to make it fit. Joe Corrie was a Fife miner in the 1920s. After the General Strike (1926) he found himself without a job - like so many who had strong principles - so with some family and neighbours he formed a touring theatre company. He wrote, directed and acted in the plays. In later years he wrote plays for the theatre and radio as well as some songs and poems. He never returned to the mines but his direct, dignified and even prophetic poems confirm him as a true worker-poet. (Battlefield Band Songbook 123)

A poem by Joe Corrie
WOMEN ARE WAITING TONIGHT
Women are waiting tonight on the pit-bank,
Pale at the heart with dread,
Watching the dead-still wheels
That loom in the mirky sky,
The silent wheels of Fate,
Which is the system under which they slave.
They stand together in groups.
As sheep shelter in storm,
Silent, passive, dumb.
For in the caverns under their feet,
The coffin seams of coal
'Twixt the rock and the rock,
The gas has burst into flame,
And has scattered the hail of Death.
Cold the night is, and dark,
And the rain falls in a mist.
Their shawls and their rags are sodden,
And their thin, starved cheeks are blue,
But they will not go home to their fires,
Tho' the news has been broken to them
That a miracle is their only hope.
They will wait and watch till the dawn,
Till the wheels begin to revolve,
And the men whom they loved so well,
The strong, kind, loving men,
Are brought up in canvas sheets,
To be identified by a watch,
Or a button,
Or, perhaps, only a wish.
And three days from now,
They will all be buried together,
In one big hole in the earth.
And the King will send his sympathy,
And the Member of Parliament will be there,,
Who voted that the military be used
When last these miners came on strike
To win a living wage.
His shining black hat will glisten over a sorrowful face,
And his elegantly shod feet will go slowly behind the bier.
And the director of the company will be there,
Who has vowed many a time
That he would make the miner eat grass.
And the parson, who sits on the Parish Council,
Starving the children and saving the rates,
Will pray in a mournful voice,
And tear the very hearts of the bereaved.
He will emphasize in godly phrase,
The danger of the mine,
And the bravery and valour of the miner.
And the Press
That has spilled oceans of ink
Poisoning the public against the 'destroyers of industry',
Will tell the sad tale,
And the public will say,
'How sad.
' But a week today all will be forgotten,
And the Member of Parliament,
The coalowner,
The parson,
The Press,
And the public,
Will keep storing up their venom and their hatred,
For the next big miners' strike.
Women are waiting tonight at the pit-bank,
But even God does not see
The hypocrisy and the shame of it all.

GA’S SONG
Part of the story of Ewan McVicar's grandfather, Hugh Reynolds of Plean, in his own words.

When ah was a laddy o twelve year auld
In the year of Nineteen Ocht Two
Ma father hurt his back in a fall in the pit
And ma mither said "It's work time for you"

So ma mither changed the date on ma birth certificate
So's ah could leave the school, free and clear
And ah never knew she'd done it till ah went tae draw ma pension
And they made me work another year

Ah was put pickin stones from the coal comin up
And ma wage was ten bob a week
Less fourpence for the doctor, and sixpence for the union
And the money fair jingled in ma breeks

But ye'll no write a song about me, young man
Ye'll no write a song about me
Sing about the lassies pushin wagons full of stones
And ye'll no write a song about me

When the Nineteen and Fourteen War came along
Ah'd a wife and a six week old bairn
And the papers said the Gerries were killin kids and women
Ah said "Ah, but they'll leave mine alane!"

So me and some pals went away tae join up
The first Scottish miners tae enlist
And ah think tae this day of the fool that ah was
Tae believe all the lies o the press

But ye'll know write a song about me, young man
Ye'll no write a song about me
Sing about the laddies that marched off cheerin
And ye'll no write a song about me

They sent us over tae fight in France
And the sights that ah saw wad mak ye roar
Ah'd seen fields growin oats and barley
But ah'd never seen a field growin tartan before

Ah took a bit of shrapnel in the muscle o ma airm
And it lay there five months through
And when they dug it out there was a piece o ma jersey
And ma tunic lyin in there too

But ye'll no write a song about me, young man
Ye'll no write a song about me
Sing about the laddies that never saw their families
And ye'll no write a song about me


Then they sent us tae Salonika, and there ah caught malaria
Invalided hame, livin saft
Till the boat ah was on was torpedoed by the Gerries
And ah spent fourteen hours on a raft

It was swimmin time again when they put us back tae France
Night piquet duty at the Front
Sinkin in the mud till it's up tae yer middle
And only yer kilts held ye up

But ye'll know write a song about me, young man
Ye'll no write a song about me
Sing about the laddies that were swallowed by the mud
And ye'll no write a song about me

Then ah went back tae Thorniecroft's pit
Ah wrocht at the coalface there
Ah was Branch Secretary in 1926
When we had tae strike tae keep our share

We kept up our hearts and we kept up the fight
And we saw the General Strike come and go
No coal for our fires, and no food for our tables
But No Surrender to the foe

Then we heard that the firemen, the safety men, ye ken
That were keepin the machinery oiled
Were smugglin up coal for old Thorniecroft
So's that he could have his caviar boiled

Well, we couldny stand for that, and we planned to stop their game
But the management spies had the tale
And we were taken up before the Dean Of The Court
And I landed in Duke Street Jail

It was 'Heroes Of The Fight' when we came out
But the strike was over in vain
My name was high on the bosses' blacklist
And ah never was a miner again

But ye'll no write a song about me, young man
Ye'll no write a song about me
Sing about the shambles of the General Strike
And ye'll no write a song about me

Ah'll tell you who tae sing about, the martyr, John Maclean
The finest speaker ever ah heard
Five thousand people in St Andrew's Hall
And he held them with every word

Ah was on the County Council with his daughter
Ah, she's another fine fighter, is Nan
The two of us were votin against every rent increase
While the Labour lads sat upon their hands

But don't start me on about ma Party days
Or we'll be sittin here all night
It's your turn now to get on with the struggle
Ah've fought ma share of the fight

Ah'm nine tenths there tae my hundredth year
And ah sit and ah think of what ah've seen
Ah think ah'm goin tae make it, but the only trouble is
Ah'd have tae get a letter from the Queen

But ye'll no write a song about me, young man
Ye'll no write a song about me
There were thousands like me, nothing special about me
And ye'll no write a song about me