Keep Your Eye upon the Scale
Recording Exchange in Wales and Appalachia
In 1974, American political sociologist John Gaventa initiated a videotape conversation between rank and file coal miners in South Wales and Appalachia. Attending Oxford University with filmmaker Richard Greatrex, Gaventa initially documented the 1974 Wales Miners' Strike, part of a series of national mining strikes across the United Kingdom. When Gaventa returned to the United States, sociologist Helen Lewis invited him to show the tapes to her students at Clinch Valley College in Wise, Virginia. While in Appalachia, Gaventa recorded music-making at the Brookside Strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. In 1975, Lewis expanded this multi-media exchange when she received a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship to research coal mining culture in Wales. Together, Lewis, Gaventa, and Greatrex made over 150 videotapes of daily life in mining communities, documenting conversations about labor history, family life, religion, and culture. The music recorded during this documentary exchange provides soundscapes of mining communities on both sides of the Atlantic.
|John Gaventa (left), Helen Lewis (middle), and Richard Greatrex (right), 2014. Video stills by Tom Hansell, Patricia Beaver, and Angela Wiley.|
In 2012, Tom Hansell (assistant professor of Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University) and Patricia Beaver (professor emerita of anthropology at Appalachian State University) developed After Coal: Welsh and Appalachian Mining Communities, a multi-media documentary project exploring the post-coal economic possibilities in Appalachian and Welsh coalfields. After Coal draws on archival footage recorded by Greatrex, Gaventa, and Lewis to document the long ties between these regions. Hansell also turned to this video collection to create Keep Your Eye upon the Scale, foregrounding the musical contributions captured in the initial exchange.
|The Strange Creek Singers perform at Onllwyn Miners' Welfare Hall in Onllywyn, South Wales, 1976. Video still from Keep Your Eye upon the Scale, by Tom Hansell, Patricia Beaver, and Angela Wiley.|
Keep Your Eye upon the Scale opens with a ballad sung on the picket line at the Brookside mine in Harlan County, Kentucky. Noting the importance of music in many everyday activities and locales, Gaventa, Greatrex, and Lewis recorded choral performances in Welsh miners' clubs, singing at pubs, and informal song swaps between Appalachian and Welsh singers. Lewis's time in Wales also facilitated in-person cultural exchange, represented in this short documentary by the 1976 performance by The Strange Creek Singers—featuring American musicians Hazel Dickens, Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger, Tracy Schwarz, and Lamar Grier—in the Onllwyn Miners' Welfare Hall in Onllywyn, South Wales.
The video recordings filmed between 1974 and 1976 in South Wales and Appalachia set the stage for John Gaventa's later work with the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee and Oxfam in Great Britain, for which he received a MacArthur Fellowship and an Order of the British Empire Award. After editing this documentary footage, Richard Greatrex became a successful cinematographer, nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Shakespeare in Love. Helen Lewis authored important scholarship on labor and social justice in Appalachian Studies. Keep Your Eye upon the Scale features the musical cultures of Appalachia and Wales that drew Gaventa, Greatrex, and Lewis's attention. In addition to presenting previously unpublished footage of the cross-Atlantic musical exchange, this documentary includes reflections of the original documentarians about the relationships of geography, culture (especially music), and economy to the lives and livelihoods of Welsh and Appalachian mining communities.