Sea Coal


Jon and Fay are strong and clear on this one and Jon recalls, “I came across the work of Graeme Miles through the singing of Robin Dale at the Colpitts in Durham. This was one of the really big chorus songs that were sung regularly and was probably my favourite.” There’s some debate as to what sea coal is, some have suggested in might be waste dumped at sea (try this link) and this link offers some different interpretations, including the idea that it was a highly prized, clean burning natural variant. Whichever is true, it seems that the coal was gathered on the sea shore and the implications of the song suggest that it was comparatively cheap, as the protagonists are faced with a choice of food or heat.  Another nice variation today and I have to say I enjoyed this a lot. If you want to find out more about Graeme, then here’s a start.

You can buy the October digital album now from all good download stores:


35 Responses to “Sea Coal”

  1. Phil says:

    Terrific stuff, and I wasn’t expecting to say that!

  2. Dave Eyre says:

    Graeme Miles – simply one of the great songwriters. Virtually every song he wrote is a classic.

  3. John Wigley says:

    Wonderfully strident. I do love the day to day contrasts of tone. This song is rooted in it’s area, not just in content but in feel.

  4. LadyD says:

    There was a bit about ‘sea coal’ on countryfile the other week
    under ‘Blackhall Rocks’ section.

  5. Ellie May says:

    Enjoyed singing along!

  6. muzza says:

    Powerful old song……….I noted that the cameraperson craftily got Fay into the pic via the mirror. Great interview with Jon………thankyou for starting the project…..I have upped my repertoire with several of songs from here already.
    I made the classic error of linking to YOUTUBE and couldn’t get away until I’d been through all the Bellowhead clips. I look forward to my daily fix of AFSAD. My only frustration is not being able to indicate that I like a song by just ticking a box rather than venturing into facebook.

  7. John Bryson says:

    Powerful song, superbly delivered – a pleasure listening to Fay and Jon

  8. Nige Rivers says:

    Sea Coal results from coastal mining waste dumped by conveyor belt into the nearby ocean. The waste initially is coal still attached to rock (too expensive to detatch commercially) which with the pounding of waves eventually detaches itself and floats free to be washed up on the shore. Not only did local people take advantage of free fuel, in some areas there was a secondary business of collecting it by lorry for resale.

  9. Nige Rivers says:

    P.s. Love the idea of a continuing monthy singer project.

  10. Shelley says:

    Yes, I like that idea too (hint, hint Jon!)

    A real belter of a song too! Love it!

  11. Judith Parker says:

    Great song. Loved it. Sea coal is still gathered to this day off the North East coast. You can’t call yourself a child of Durham unless you’ve regularly had your feet in a coal black sea.

  12. N J Gardner says:

    Like the idea of handing the project on – it could take on a life of its own….

  13. Jane Ramsden says:

    I haven’t heard anything that beautiful in a long time! Fair moved the old heart of stone to tears! (Can you move a heart to tears? Hahaha!)

    Anyway, Abigail, eat your heart out! That was masterly enough done for anyone – sheer perfection!

    I had ‘The Constant Lovers’ down as Song of the Year, let alone month, but now I think it has to be runner-up to this duet. Jon & Fay, you are getting us so ready for a combined album that disappointment will be rife if you don’t do it eventually. And, if you do, this track must be on it!

    I’m one of those who would like a hard copy CD(s), but take on board all you said in the interview, Jon, plus I know I favour certain tracks, so the whole collection would not get listened to as much as it ought. For this reason, I have not downloaded it to iTunes. (Indeed I ditched iTunes off my pc shortly before this project – mistake! – but I never used it, whereas I do use WindowsMedia.) I have noted every song so far in a notebook and put a star by the ones I like. Maybe I’ll buy those and make an album of what I especially like.

    Sea coal – the image of buckets tipping into the sea reminds me of the end of Michael Mann’s/Caine’s ‘Get Carter.’ Nice to know at last what that was all about! What a subject for my all-time favourite song to date! Still, a gem – aren’t coal and diamond fundamentally the same thing? And, for someone who normally likes accompaniment, I also note that my favourites are unaccompanied.

  14. Simon Dewsbury says:

    fascinating to hear Jon’s reasons for the project in more detail and just how important social singing is to him. Mind you, as someone who can’t hold a tune or remember a lyric, I’m not sure I’d be too welcome at a session

  15. If Jon’s criteria for success is that people will have learnt a couple of new songs that they are singing socially – then he need not wait for years, it is happening. However, I suspect it is current singers expanding their existing repertoire rather than new singers taking the plunge – so far. Nevertheless, the i-tune reference example makes the threshold easier for a novice to cross (wish I had these simple renditions available when I first tried to singout).

  16. Phil says:

    Another vote for the Continuity Folk Song A Day project, which it strikes me would be an ideal medium to showcase gifted amateurs who have yet to gain wider exposure… hint, hint…

    Or indeed other people who do it for a living – a month of Fay would be no bad thing, for a start.

  17. StephenH says:

    Yet another grand song. Of course, the performance was very powerful but, unless the song itself is of a sturdy nature, even two singers as good as these couldn’t make it stand on its own two feet.
    I think I’ll add this to “Frankie’s Trade” as the songs from this site which I am immediately moved to learn.

  18. Barbara Wogan-Provo says:

    The whole project is a great concept and Jon’s idea of others taking over turning it into a continual living ongoing thing is wonderful. I have been involved in a Folk organization here in OZ for some years now and have to agree that it is the social singing with the swapping and sharing of songs all delivered by unique voices that is the real turn on.
    I too will be hanging out for the Jon & Fay CD. Your voices together are just pure magic!
    October 18th was my birthday & I couldn’t have asked for a better present that Sea Coal.

  19. Reinhard Zierke says:

    Phil, that will be a merry month of Fay! 🙂

  20. Lenora Rose says:

    Social singing is, as far as I’m concerned, an essential phenomenon it’s too easy to forget about, except in shadow versions like Karaoke.

    This past year, there was a fair chance that I’d be only able to go to our local folk festival as a regular patron, instead of as a volunteer and as a camper. And I thought that would lose me more than half the experience, and thought it might not be worth going after all (I did have an eleventh hour miracle, though; the only year I’ve missed since 1995 or so was the year Bellowhead played).

    In particular, I most feared losing the chance to join the group of people in the campground with whom I semi-regularly sing, as opposed to the pros to whom I simply listen and nothing more. It’s very different when the person singing is not just inviting you to bridge the distance between stage and audience by singing along, but where anyone who sings along is instantly both.

    I’d love to see the project branch off. (A part of me suspects i might well *know* enough songs. What I don’t have are sufficiently professional chops, or time.)

  21. karen martin says:

    This is beautiful music and it took me back to the Collpits on Monday nights in Durham (2003) where all the musicians gathered to fill the little room with exquisite music and cheer. Thank you

  22. Andrew says:

    Add my vote for the Fay & Jon CD. I keep coming back to these duets

  23. Jane Bird says:

    What a fantastic duet! Thanks.

  24. Graham says:

    when I were a lad in t’60’s seacoaling was something everyone did after the right (heavy ) sea conditions. The beach was black and evrybody was down there skimming the seacoal off the top of the sand, into sacks, loaded onto old prams etc, and taken back up the cliffs to home, to stock up the fire in the winter.
    You make a funnel shape out of newspaper fill it with seacoal and load up two or three bags onto an established fire , and it would burn for ages.
    That was in Saltburn on the north east coast just down from redcar/teeside
    most importantly of all it was FREE (…..Saltburn was still in yorkshire then 😉

  25. Cath says:

    That was a fantastic duet. Also I did this by accident but try it for yourself …Play the embedded music player and after the songs introduction start the Youtube clip too – A very pleasing effect is achieved! Hey presto! – A Round.

  26. Jim Mclaughlin says:

    i’ve known this song for 20 years & i think this is the best version i’ve heard by a distance

  27. Mark Pierce says:

    On the origins of sea coal: the song was written in the 1940s at which time coal slag in County Durham was dumped in the sea. This created black beaches, but some coal washed down the coast to Teesside and people gathered the best bits up to sell or use. They were still doing it in 2006. The film Get Carter has a scene set on a Durham beach and you can see the coal being dumped.

  28. Maggie says:

    A year on and this is still my favourite. It was new to me a year ago, but I regularly listen to it on YouTube. Listening to it again today it’s reminded me to claim my winter fuel allowance!

  29. Joe Fineman says:

    According to the OED, the original meaning of “sea coal” was simply coal in the modern sense — mineral coal, as opposed to charcoal. The reason for this usage is a matter of speculation.

  30. Jane Ramsden says:

    Still my favourite a year on too, Maggie. And thanks to Cath for the suggestion to play both recordings almost simultaneously to give a round effect. It really resonates! Twice the pleasure and proficiency! Absolutely magnificent!

  31. nev perry says:

    I,ve listened to this over and over, just this song alone has prompted me to puchase the month of October album. The harmonies are so subtle here listening to it renders me both breathless and speechless! Oh I do wish I could sing like this! thanks for sharing it again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  32. Diana says:

    Hooray “Broadside” arrived today – finally – been on order since the 5th of September.

  33. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Will this silly old duffer never learn………….nope……after listening to Jon’s chat….the screen threw up a Bellowhead teaser…….I clicked on it……………and bang went another few hours of Saturday morning…………..
    Hi Linda…ref the dots…I must have been affected by Chicken pox when a child….it either leaves you with dormant shingles or………………………………………………………………………………………..damn DOTS!

  34. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    I must not look at the youtube links!
    I must not look at the youtube links!
    I must not look at the youtube links!
    Yep…………..this song immediately reminds me of the bleak scenes of the hoppers tipping waste into the sea in the Michael Caine film ‘Get Carter’

  35. Linda says:

    Nothing to do with the song but via iPlayer have watched a programme about Leonard Cohen called Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love……..Muzza warning its on for hour and a half ……..

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