Friday, 22 April 2011

A Rose Loupt Out

Andy Croft at Smokestack has published this new collection of poetry and song celebrating the UCS work-in, thirty years after Jimmy Reid, Jimmy Airlie and others put it to the workforce of the Upper Clyde Shipyards that they should not accept redundancy, nor strike, but take over the yards and run them. The work-in electrified Scotland - I can well remember marching in Glasgow with the chants of "Heath Out" echoing back from the high buildings in the centre of town. After a year the government caved in and the yards were saved. Meantime folk musicians, poets and a couple called John and Yoko raised and sent money to keep the wages flowing, the struggle going. I cannot remember hearing Jimmy Reid speak at the time, but, like Mick McGahey and Lawrence Daly of the NUM he was an autodidact; a well-read man with a wonderful turn of phrase. This is an unashamedly political book, collecting songs and poems from the period, the history of the work-in and the solidarity movement covered by the editor David Betteridge. Scattered throughout there are snippets from interviews and letters from the period, and the book ends with a detailed further reading list about the work-in.

The selection of poetry is excellent, including the never to be forgotten title "The Industrial Relations Act, 1971 (Repealed 1974)", though that is an exception, title-wise. The stand-out poem for me was "I am the Esperance" by Gerda Stevenson, which imagines the creations of the workforce - the floating crane Hikitia, home from Wellington, the Empire Nan, a stout tug, the Delta Queen "her great stern wheel churns the foam / as she steams in from the Mississippi" - "canvas unfurled, freighted with hope, / as wave upon wave, you surge into Glasgow Green". Some of the poems are by well-known writers, Edwin Morgan and Jackie Kay for example, her "The Shoes of Dead Comrades" being reprinted here, another great poem. The majority of writers were new to me.
My one criticism would be that the songs don't quite work as well as the poems, unless you know the tunes they were based on. I wish the book had included a CD of the songs. Good value though at £8.95 for 140 pages.

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