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Video interview with David Peace &
Keith Pattison

 

No Redemption -
how the miners faced shock and awe  

Keith Pattison’s intimate photographic record of the 1984-1985 miners’ strike, accompanied by author David Peace’s words, makes its London debut at Kings Place.

Review by Corinna Lotz
 

Pattison

A slim young miner is snatched by two policemen. The tension of the moment is clear on the officers’ strained features. The burly one on the right clutches his victim’s shoulder with his leather gauntlet and handcuffs peer out from under the jacket of the other.

The miner’s jumper is drawn up, his arms grabbed from both sides. But there is no panic or fear. Instead his face conveys utter calm, as though he expected this and will cope with it. 

If you had to choose one image from this outstanding photographic record of the 1984-5 miner’s strike in Easington, County Durham, it would be this one.

Caravaggio The taking of ChristThe scene has the stark drama captured by the charismatic Italian old master, Caravaggio, in his Taking of Christ. The seriousness of the moment is reflected in the faces of the onlookers, just as it is in the painting. Pattison too uses the fall of light to etch reality onto the hearts and minds of the viewer.

The only difference seems that the gleaming armour in the old painting is now transformed into 20th century police uniforms, with their shiny buttons and badges. But the message is almost the same. The state is clamping down on a defenceless innocent.

And the instant of the snatch squad is not the only image that lingers on in your mind. It is the closeness and rawness of it all.

No Redemption

For example, six men, all in profile, queue up in a small dark hut, one yawning miner stretching his elbows as though just awoken, no one aware of the camera. Three pickets stand at the pit gate, thoughtful, determined and angry, one looking out of his hooded duffel coat against the drizzle, the others plastered with rain.

Pattison

Author David Peace, whose dramatic and graphic novel GB84 is about the strike,  has set down the words of Alan Cummings, Easington Miners’ lodge secretary, Jimmy Johnson, who stayed out on strike for the whole year, and his wife Marilyn who ran the soup kitchen.

The iron fist wielded against the National Union of Mineworkers in its heartland becomes apparent. It took 2,000 officers to escort one strike-breaker through the Easington picket lines, Alan recalls. The shock and awe tactics are self-evident.  

“The first big shock we had was when we were picketing up at Tow Law, at Banks’s open cast site in West Durham, in middle of nowhere,” he says.

“Police were heavy-handed. And we had a lot of arrests. So we went to the Magistrates Court. The solicitor we had was a complete joke. We used to call him Billy Bunter. He tells the lads, ‘Just plead guilty’. I said, There’s none of my lads pleading guilty.

“The Magistrate Courts were a joke at the time. The Police Complaints Authority. Bail conditions. It was all a joke. I had some lads who were told they couldn’t picket anywhere in the UK. If they’d have had passports, it’d have been the whole world. Who were they? IRA? Al-Qaeda? No, they were just ordinary striking miners.”

And today? Alan says: “A lot of people have been criticising, in the press over the years, why don’t people move on? But my experience that year, you can’t move on. And certainly not after what’s happened since. Easington’s got some of the worst records going: greatest deprivation in the country. The worst health. Problems with Class A drugs. Private landlords not caring who they bring in as long as they get their housing benefit cheque each week. Unemployment high. We’ve got the most people on incapacity benefit.”

Nearly 27 years on – a generation ago – the strike is indeed well and truly in the past but not forgotten. It is in the genes and cannot be extirpated, as the crowds at recent Durham Miners’ Galas have shown. The ghosts still haunt.

For some who have experienced the trauma of a class war, it can be easier to die than to remember, Peace suggests, quoting Geordie poet, Basil Bunting. But like an unquiet ghost, the political consequences demand resolution.

21 January 2011

No Redemption opens at Kings Place Gallery, 90 York Way, N1 9AG on January 28 and runs until March 4. It is accompanied by two other exhibitions from the North-east, The Narrow World of Norman Cornish and Angela Hughes Transitions. Free admission.

No RedemptionNo Redemption is published by Flambard Press at £20.

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