New York Mining Disaster 1941

2015
04.28

Jon recalls “I was amazed to discover that the Bee Gees started off as a folk trio – I heard Martin Carthy’s majestic version of this before `I read the sleeve notes and assumed that the Bee Gees bit must have been a mistake. I’ve never tried this in a session but I reckon the chorus could be a belter.”

This is their rather unlikely first hit and a great song. I say unlikely, as the subject of miners trapped underground, with the deliberate slowing of the lines as their chances of rescue expire along with the air, is hardly the stuff of your average Top 20 smash. But an international hit it was, putting the Bee Gees on the pop map in the swinging 60s, although it may well have resulted from the mistaken belief that it was The Beatles operating under a pseudonym. You can Wiki here for more on the song and here for more on the brothers Gibb. I won’t claim to be a big fan, but their early international success did actually produce some very fine songs (really.) I have read somewhere down the (possibly apocryphal) line that they were more or less forced to leave for Australia on the £10 ticket after several brushes with the law. If true it’s almost echoes the transports.  Anyway Martin Carthy is Jon’s source for this and his version is nicely stark. Perhaps it’s not entirely coincidental that it’s followed on the Signs Of Life CD by a version of yesterday’s song, albeit the decidedly English version called Georgie, not that it shares much in common, apart from a similar plotline, with Jon’s take. You may also appreciate a quick read of Martin’s notes at Mainly Norfolk, which also cover Georgie.

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28 Responses to “New York Mining Disaster 1941”

  1. Stephen Jeffreys says:

    Past eleven at night and nary a comment ! Is this pre royal wedding nerves ? I’ve always had a soft spot for this, even though there were no New York mining disasters in 1941. I feel it’s a guitar song and needs the interplay between voice and guitar to make it work. But I still think it justifies its place in the canon because of the line “Don’t go talking too loud you’ll cause a landslide” where the lyric and tune conspire together in a downward movement.

  2. Cherry says:

    Well I didnt know the Bee Gees did anything nearly as interesting as this. I like the way that apart from the title you would have to work to understand whats going on, which kind of takes it away from being ‘folk’ for me, but enjoyed it none the less- what about ‘number 4 top seam’ (I think thats what its called) some time, thats a mining disaster song and a half ( half the street fell fifty feet…)

  3. Jon Boden says:

    I’m not sure it is actually about a mining disaster. Feels a bit Waiting For Godot to me.

  4. Jon Boden says:

    I’m not sure it is literally about a mining disaster. Feels a bit Waiting For Godot to me.

  5. Reinhard says:

    The Wikipedia page for this song says: “The song recounts the story of a miner trapped in a cave-in. He is sharing a photo of his wife with a colleague (“Mr. Jones”) while they hopelessly wait to be rescued. According to the liner notes for their box-set Tales from the Brothers Gibb (1990), this song was inspired by the 1966 Aberfan mining disaster in Wales.” But the “inspired by” is a very loose connection: Aberfan was a debris slide with instant death, not a cave-in with a long wait for death or Godot.

  6. Jane Ramsden says:

    Being old enough to remember the Bee Gees charting with this and the Aberfan disaster, I can say my understanding was as Reinhard writes above. It definitely made a strong emotional impression in its day anyway.

    Lots of ways you could no doubt sing and play this song, but powerfully and wonderfully well delivered, Jon!

  7. Dave Knibb BA says:

    I agree that the interplay with a guitar helps, but this version is extremely powerful and achieves all the feeling of the Bee Gees original. Yes, I am old enough to have been singing this one since it was released as I loved it from the start. I still have a Bee Gees songbook from 1967 or so, including this.

  8. Philip Birtwistle says:

    A great version of the song. Shgould have a go at John Lee’s political “rewrite” The Great 1974 Mining Disaster from Barclay James Harvest’s Everyone Is Everybody Else album next…………..

    Philip

  9. Diana says:

    I much prefer Jon’s version to that of the Bee Gees which I have just listened to on Mainly Norfolk. A very sad tale anyway.

  10. Jon says:

    Hard to imagine the brothers Gibb wrote it, but they did, and they’ve written some other great songs as well. The b-side to this was I can’t see nobody, the follow up was To Love Somebody (as covered by Nina Simone who knew a good song when she heard one). And then came Massachousetts. What’s not to like?

  11. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    ‘The ficticious Jones family’ seems to have a varied and colourful life and,
    therefore, provides a veritable goldmine for songs…………for example…does “Mr.trapped in the mine Mr.Jones” know about “ME and Mrs.Jones!”…I think not.

  12. Diana says:

    I agree that the Bee Gees wrote some great songs – who could forget “Staying Alive” and “Night Fever” for example but still somethmes a solo is preferable to a trio.

    Muzza what have you been up to now? Another woman or is it the one you took to see “The Calender Girls”, the one with the bony elbow? By the way Lady H died in 1815 so her ghost may now be laid to rest. It is not as much fun playing alone as with others as you will know.

  13. Reynard says:

    Somewhat off-topic, as neither the New York Mining Disaster 1941 nor Staying Alive is on it but Fay Hield’s new album Orfeo can be ordered from her website now, a month before the official release date. You also can listen to two tracks there: The Lover’s Ghost and Tarry Trowsers; they are absolutely beautiful. And Mike Harding played The Wicked Serpent last Wednesday in his radio programme.

  14. Diana says:

    That is interesting – it was not due out till the end of May was it? I would be extremely shocked if I foind either of the two songs above on the CD. It just isn’t folk music.

  15. Diana says:

    Spelling gone to pot yet again!

  16. Diana says:

    Done and dusted – I think that is the right expression. Thanks Reynard that was a handy hint.

  17. Diana says:

    Done and dusted – I think that is the right expression. Thanks Reynard that was a handy hint. Also managed to listen to the two tracks – both good.

  18. Reynard says:

    I’ve seen it a few times now that a new album could be bought from the artist’s website in advance. Consider that big retailers like Amazon will sell brand new CDs for about £10 and wants to earn some money on it, then try to imagine which small part of that the record label and the artist will get. However, loyal fans like to get the album early, like to buy directly from the artist, and are willing to pay the full price, and thus the artist is able to eat a few more toasties (even if not on the Bellowhad bus) or chocolate muffins. So, everyone is happy!

  19. Diana says:

    I am afraid that I was not aware of this, although I did buy Spiers and Boden’s “The Works” from them at a venue in Leeds last year, which they obligingly signed. I know it did not go on general sale until several weeks later. I believe that Fay will sign her CD for me (which is nice). Like you said it is worth paying a couple or so pounds more to get an advance copy direct from the artist concerned. You learn something every day don’t you Reynard?

  20. Diana says:

    I would love to ask you a question Reynard, which I am sure you will have heard many times before, but I fear that I would not get a response.

  21. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    Never a great fan of the Bee Gees, so I ought to shut up and keep my head down, but I must say I really enjoyed Jon’s version. It really sets you thinking, “What is happening with this guy ?” Very powerful.

    Actually Diana, I am getting concerned about Muzza. A couple of days ago you thought he was having some armless fun with Mrs Hamilton, now it is Mrs Jones. Who is next ?

  22. Diana says:

    John who knows? Well he does get around with the ladies or so he says. There was the unnamed one with the bony elbow a few days ago.. ..then Mrs. Jones so nothing would surprise me. Like I wrote, (shades of Morecambe and Wise) sometimes a solo is better and they did have quite high voices didn’t they the BGs?

  23. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Diana…………ref the question for Reynard……..(3 comments above)..
    you can always ask him discretely…just go to Mainly Norfolk……bottom LH side of the page…click on ‘contact Impressum,’ and you get a pic of the suave old fox himself and his contact info. …..(you will tell us the answer wont you!)

  24. Diana says:

    I am not sure that I am brave enough to tackle the fox in his lair Muzza. He may refuse to answer even if I get up the courage to ask him.

    I noticed what you wrote about Leslie Garrett – I have some CD’s of her from way back – mostly light operattas for which she is is well known – I think the most modern music (I use the term lightly) on them was three songs of George Gershwin.

  25. Reinhard says:

    Seems I have a reputation of a grumpy old fart. Ah well…

    Diana, if your question is somewhat relevant to the blog’s theme and the songs feel free to ask. Otherwise, please don’t. There are already too many people playing silly buggers here.

  26. Diana says:

    I believe my question is somehow related to the songs etc. so who knows I may ponder on it a little while longer then pounce. As for your description of your reputation let me assure you I do not think that is the case at all.

  27. Jane Ramsden says:

    I really love this song and Jon’s rendition. In my view, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be viewed as more folk than pop, given it alludes to working life & a working disaster, and human relationships. Whatever people think of the BeeGees, they are original and good at what they do, with their music for Saturday Night Fever also accompanying some pertinent messages contained in the film. I like them. Can still get me up and moving!

  28. rdc says:

    Aw, this was an extremely good post. Finding the time and actual effort to generate a superb article… but what
    can I say… I hesitate a whole lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

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