BILLY MITCHELL - THE DEVIL'S GROUND
CD - £14.00 (MWMCDSP70)
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Recorded and mixed at the Cluny Studio, Newcastle
Tony Davis (keyboards)
Stewart Hardy (fiddle)
Neil Harland (bass)
Jim Hornsby (dobro, guitar)
Ray Laidlaw (drums)
Jane Wade (vocals)
A collection of both traditional songs arranged by Mitch and his own compositions about life, with special emphasis on coal mining, in the North East, commissioned by the Northumbria Anthology. Traditional songs include 'The Newcastle Lad', 'The Tyne Exile's Lament' and 'The Pitman and the Blackin', mixed with his own '1915-1972', 'Shiftin' to the Toon' and poignant 'Collier Laddie's Wife', sung by special guest, Jane Wade.
ReviewChris Groom - CD review - 01/10/2005
Mitchell mines a rich seam - The menacing opening chords of the title track set the mood perfectly, as dark and forbidding as the cage full of weary miners descending deep into the devil's ground and the dank gloom of the pitface.
Compiled as part of the Northumbria Anthology series, former Jack the Lad and Lindisfarne frontman Billy Mitchell has created a fitting musical tribute, respectfully dedicated to the old mining communities of this country, in particular the men and women of the West Wylam colliery in the north east of England.
Four generations of Mitchell's family served underground in this mine and there is much personal history woven into the fabric of this album, yet while this fine collection of songs pinpoint the hardships and dangers of pit life, they never lose sight of the familiar Geordie humour, local pride and battling spirit. A seamless mixture of Mitchell originals and lovingly arranged traditional material, the playing throughout is exemplary, from Stewart Hardy's fiddle on 'The Pitman and the Blackin' to Jane Wade's guest vocal on 'Collier Laddies' Wife', suggesting that mining life was as hard for the women left above ground as for the pitmen toiling down below.
The lively 'Shiftin' to the Toon' offers the mining family a way out, by making the big move into Newcastle, while 'Where my Heart Lives' is the albums highlight, an up-tempo and uplifting tale of homecoming that wouldn't have been out of place on the last Lindisfarne album. Lest we forget the sacrifice of the working miner, the album concludes with a poem, the true story of a pit disaster at West Wylam, written by Billy's cousin and read over a hauntingly moving instrumental piece.
Like the character in 'Where my heart lives', Billy Mitchell has returned to his roots, both musically and geographically, to produce the best work of his career to date.
Chris Groom - CD review - 01/10/2005
Pete Fyfe - www.folking.com - 05/09/2005
I don't know what it is about Geordie's and native Americans but there certainly seems to be an empathic link between the cultures and this is more than ably demonstrated in Billy Mitchell's title track 'The Devil's Ground'. I first heard how obvious it was a while back when Jimmy Nail employed a similar cross-over with the music in Auf Wiedersehen Pet.
A bit odd you may think but it works really well considering the hardship both races (that's Northerners and Native Americans to us Southern pansies) have suffered throughout their working lives. The gritty realism of the pits have spawned many fine writers including most notably Tommy Armstrong and more recently Jez Lowe and whilst Mitchell may not have been down there himself we couldn't have found a more eloquent spokesman in these modern times. Lest we forget that many men lost their lives working deep underground for the betterment of our society it is with the fertile imagination in summing up the futility and loss of life in a few brief verses that hopefully will make us just that bit more aware of the sacrifices others had to endure to keep this Nation great – although I hate to say it myself at what cost? But, enough of this negativity and let's concentrate on the positive because there's plenty to be found on this recording.
Firstly there's the vocal dramatics of what to me has to be one of the finest singer's on the planet and I say that unreservedly (along with loads of other fans that would doubtless back me up). The voice is equally matched with Billy's instrumental prowess on guitars, mandolin and harmonicas and being joined by the collaborative talents of Tony Davis, Stewart Hardy, Neil Harland, Jim Hornsby, Ray Laidlaw and Jane Wade this is indeed a winning combination. With a splash of music hall magic 'The Pitman And The Blackin'' and the rousing 'Newcastle Lad' which were both penned by Tyneside bard Bobby Nunn this brand of rallying cry lends itself ideally to the anthemic quality that was so uplifting in say Alan Price's 'Jarrow Song' years earlier.
In much the same way that the Irish have found a way of creating humorous situations from death the Geordie's resilient attitude by expressing their passion for life against every adversity has to be admired - in much the same way as this album in fact. Cracking stuff!
Pete Fyfe - www.folking.com - 05/09/2005