durham book festival

Keith Pattison And David Peace: Durham Book Festival 23/10/10

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“Those whose lives are ruled by dogma are waiting for a sign/The Better Dead Than Red Brigade are listening on the line /And the liberal, with a small L cries in front of the TV/And another demonstration passes on to history/Peace, bread, work, and freedom is the best we can achieve/And wearing badges is not enough in days like these……” (Days like these, Billy Bragg 1985)

Yesterday I went to Durham to see Keith Pattison and David Peace talk on their respective books  about the Miners Strike of 84/85. They were in the magnificent surroundings of the Town Hall. It was organised as part of the Durham Book Festival. It is 25 years since the strike ended and in a move to not allow this part of our history to be totally forgotten, or to be airbrushed out as a back drop to Billy Elliott, both men have set about pricking our collective consciences about the events that changed our nation.

As a teenager at the time I had little insight into the strike even though I was brought up in Dudley, a small pit village (although the mine had been closed long before the events of 1984) near Newcastle and I was living only a few miles from Ashington, in Northumberland, which was at the heart of the struggle. I had friends whose fathers were on the picket lines but I didn’t really realise the enormity of it all until I got into music. It was through Billy Bragg and The Redskins and benefit gigs at the Bunker in Sunderland that I was allowed an insight into what was really going on. The media at the time told us one side of the strike. The side Thatcher wanted us to see. Belligerent, militants stopping decent men from going to work. She didn’t want us to see the brave men who were protecting not only their jobs but the very communities that they lived in. I’m embarressed to admit but a man from Essex opened my eyes to it all. He changed my whole outlook on life. An outlook I hold to this day. That man was Billy Bragg. His gig at the Bunker in 84 made me wake up to what was going on around me. I had seen the pictures on the tv but they had fooled me into believing in the wrong side.

Twenty-five years later and I have come full circle. Through the Northern Line I began to listen to a bunch of upstarts from Sunderland called Frankie & The Heartstrings. I was intrigued enough to buy their debut ten inch single. The cover featured a striking miner watching Arthur Scargill on the television. Why? I asked myself. I did a bit of investigating and discovered the photographer was Keith Pattison. He had been in Easington throughout the strike and had captured the mood of a community under seige. Not pictures of fights on the picket lines that we had seen in the mainstream press. No, pictures of a community with its backs against the wall, fighting. The women organising soup kitchens. The ordinary men struggling to protect their livelihood and their future. The despair of the day they voted to go back. The streets of a proud community staring into the abyss. That book of photos is NO REDEMPTION and today in Durham we hear parts of it read out. The voices of striking miners and their wives brought to life. The pictures of 25 years ago that look like 125 years ago. Black and white. Coal not dole.

David Peace is the writer of The Damned United. Oh, suddenly you know who he is. He is also the finest British Writer of the past 10 years. His book about the miners strike, GB84, was published in 2004. Keith Pattison read that novel and realised that his photos needed to be seen. They got together and Peace wrote the words that accompany the photos. A meeting of minds. A chance to reflect. Today David reads the final pages of his epic novel. A novel that brings the events of 84 to life like no news reel or “I love the 80s” show ever can. David, like me, we discover, was a sixth former during the strike. Like me, he wore the badges, and, like me, he didn’t do enough. Nineteen years later he  tried to gain redemption by bringing the strike back into the minds of our fractured nation. New Labour hadn’t put right the wrongs on Thatcherism. The Torys certainly wouldn’t. The enemy within was still here, let its voice be heard. Read GB84 look at Pattisons photos and instead of thinking of 1984 think of 2010. Thatcherism has come full circle and we now stand on the edge of another recession. During their discussion Peace says “Fiction has the ability to illuminate history” he is right and it also has the ability to illuminate the here and now. Recent events in Britain make the legacy of the strike even more important, both socially and politically.

The final question of the session concerns whether or not the North of England is actually part of England. Peace agrees with the questioner that he always felt that Yorkshire was a land apart from the South of England. The land of Thatcher and the Tories. Very few in The North vote for the Tories so when things get tough who will suffer? The next few years will show us that little has changed in the 25 years since the strike. Pattison and Peace have tried to make us remember not for reasons of nostalgia but as a warning for the future. History repeats itself because no-one listens!!!  Those in power manipulate the press and those in power care little for the people. Especially those people who don’t vote for them.

“Better to die on our feet, than live on our knees.” (The Redskins ’84)

LINKS:

KEITH PATTISON    http://www.keithpattison.com/

DAVID PEACE       http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David Peace

DURHAM BOOK FESTIVAL    http://www.durhambookfestival.com/home.html

BILLY BRAGG    http://www.billybragg.co.uk/

THE REDSKINS     http://www.redskins.co.uk/

FRANKIE & THE HEARTSTRINGS   http://frankieandtheheartstrings.com/home/

THE BUNKER   http://www.bunkeruk.com/

By peter on October 24, 2010


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