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The radio ballads were the joint creation of Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger.

A radio ballad is a sound-tapestry woven of four basic elements: songs, instrumental music, sound effects and the recorded voices of those with whose lives each program deals.

These programs were revolutionary for their time, using as they did the actual spoken words of the ‘informants'. Up until this time, this 'actuality' (as the trio dubbed it) was transcribed and then interpreted by trained radio speakers. The radio ballads lead you effortlessly from to song to music to sound effect to the spoken word and back again, revealing the effect of a way of life upon those who lead it. They are entertaining, informative, musical, poetic and educational.

There were eight radio-ballads, created, between 1957 and 1964.

Coalmining presented itself as a natural subject for a radio ballad since Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger had spent part of 1960 working as resident songwriters and music arrangers for the National Coal Board film department. The Big Hewer was the fourth in the series and named after the mythically prodigious miner of coal legend who appears by a different name in each mining locality (a similar figure with superhuman work powers, John Henry, exists in American work gang mythology).

The miners of the Northumberland, Durham, South Wales and East Midlands coalfields provided the subjects and Parker, MacColl and Seeger followed them into pit-canteens, pithead baths, pubs and miners' welfares; into mine shafts, passages and galleries the length and breadth of the country. Their forthright expression of opinion on every subject, their acute political awareness and strong sense of history proved a revelation to the field recorders and yielded between two and three hundred 7-inch reels of mining 'crack'.

Following the routine established in Singing The Fishing, this wealth of recording could now be readily transcribed and catalogued easily on the reels of quarter-inch tape. The program reflected a change in attitude to the radio ballads. Previous titles suggested a non-personalised object, an occupation rather than a human being; The Big Hewer made it clear that the subject matter was not mining as such but a man who was a miner - an important distinction.


released August 18, 1961

Script, song lyrics and music - Ewan MacColl
Orchestration and music direction - Peggy Seeger
Production - Charles Parker
Actuality recording - Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger
Technical direction – John Farrington
“℗ 1961 BBC [(BBC Worldwide Ltd)]; this recording ℗ and © 2019 Ewan MacColl Limited”
Isla Cameron, Ian Campbell, Joe Higgins, Louis Killen, A.L.Lloyd, Ewan MacColl

Jim Bray - double bass
Brian Daly - guitar
Alf Edwards - English concertina, harmonica, clarinet
Alfie Kahn – tin whistle
Peggy Seeger – autoharp, guitar, mandolin, 5 string banjo
Dave Swarbrick - fiddle


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Ewan MacColl London, UK

This site is maintained by the MacColl family, aiming to make Ewan's catalogue available to download.
Ewan MacColl is known to most as a songwriter and singer, but he was also of significant influence in the worlds of theatre and radio broadcasting. His art reached huge numbers through the folk clubs, greater numbers through his recordings and untold millions through the radio. ... more

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