Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Boy in Darkness

A Boy in Darkness is track seven on English Electric (Part 1)

Warning: Part 3 of this post concerns subject matter and a link that some people may find distressing

I have mentioned in earlier posts that my Uncle Jack was a collier who worked from a young age in the Derbyshire coal mines in the 20th century up until he retired in the late 1970's. At that time young lads were expected to work down the mines in hard conditions once they had left school. It was hard and dangerous work but that is how it was in those days. By the time I'd arrived on the planet during the mid 1960's and had grown up into a teenager by the 1980's, the pits were on their last legs and a world of educational and work opportunities were now opening up. 

One day, Jack told me the story from when he was working down the pit and how a lad had become trapped and injured below ground in an accident. Jack and his crew stayed with the frightened boy but he tragically died from his injuries. Jack said 'no one should have to die like that, down there... especially a boy.' That stuck with me. That was the seed of the song.

Over the years I have tried to write a song about the unfortunate young man but each attempt did not seem to do it justice. There have been many songs written about mining fatalities but the further I went down this route, the more I realised that it was not what I was trying to say. So the undeveloped song remained on the shelf for a few years.

The title of the song is based on the Mervyn Peake story. I chose it because I liked the imagery but not because it relates to Peake's story line.

Part 1
When Andy and Greg invited me to contribute material for English Electric, I thought about revisiting A Boy in Darkness because the mysterious sounding opening piano and acoustic guitar part was possibly the most typically mournful Big Big Train-esque piece of music that I had. I wanted these verse sections to be eerie, ghostly and sparse. In contrast to the choruses, which should be powerful and emotional with the lead vocal predominantly holding the same fixed note while the other instruments swirl dramatically around it. 

I inherited many books from my Uncle Jack's library and there were several books concerning mining. The most fascinating ones were the volumes by the Heanor & District Local History Society. I gathered most of the information for part 1 from 'A History of Mining in the Heanor Area' - ISBN 0 9508430 3 2.

As I read more I discovered that the day to day stories of conditions in the 19th century mines for the young. The Mining in Heanor book contained extracts from a Sub Commissioners report detailing the working conditions of children and young people employed in the collieries in 1842. The pits employed many young children who worked 'extremely long hours', six days a week and they would have to walk several miles to the pit. These daily demands placed upon those local children were dramatic enough and that is what I decided to write about.

The character Godfrey Fletcher was made up from some of the case studies contained in the Sub Commissioners report. In 1842 Lord Ashley (who would later become Earl of Shaftesbury) proposed a bill which excluded women and children from working underground and in the August of 1842 Parliament passed it.

Part 2:
The middle instrumental section is meant to denote the passing of time between Part 1 and Part 3. I had the organ riff in place and imagined guitar, organ and flute trading solos with each other. 

The string parts on ABID were arranged by Louis Philippe, performed at the height of the London riots by The Covent Garden String Quartet and recorded by Ken Brake. In the first part they add drama to the verses and in this part they are playing some swift and furious lines.
L to R: Sue Bowran, Ken Brake, Geraldine Berreen, Teresa Whipple, Louis Philippe and Abigail Trundle.
The organ playing is by Andy Tillison (The Tangent) who adds enormous energy and passion to the proceedings. Dave Gregory also cranks up his guitar here (using a Fender Strat that he has fiddled and tweaked - previously used on Drums and Wires) spraying aggressive bursts of searing electric guitar vandalism! 

It's very easy to naively look back on previous generations and think that the bad and unenlightened aspects of ourselves and who we are, is all safely in the past. We can reassure ourselves of how far we have moved on. Young people of later generations certainly have rights and choices with greater protection and provision. 


Part 3:
The final section of this song was the hardest part to write. 

I vividly remember the headline story of Peter Connelly breaking and being horrified by the unfolding events. Listening to the harrowing reports of what happened made me think that no one should have to die like that and for me, that realisation was the final piece in the puzzle.

ABID is not about the death of Peter Connelly but Baby P was definitely a boy in darkness. He was one child out of many children who suffer at the hand of those to whom they are entrusted. Other news stories to break during the writing of ABID included certain individuals hiding inside respected establishments like the church and education. These stories were the catalyst behind completing the song. 

There is a connection between Godfrey Fletcher and the young protagonist in this final section. They were both in different circumstances but they are both boys in darkness. 

The message within the song is this:- Don't be afraid to shine bright light into dark corners.

Next week, the story behind Hedgerow (the last song on English Electric Part 1) will be disclosed.



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