A striking musical

Russell Senior and Ralph Parmar - the Two Tribes production team.
Russell Senior and Ralph Parmar - the Two Tribes production team.

The Miners’ Strike in 1984-5, one of most divisive moments of British 20th-century political history, is being brought to the stage for a musical production by a Pulp star and one of Sheffield’s best-known DJs.

Little remains of the coal mines in South Yorkshire that triggered those landmark events of the 1980s when the unions confronted the Thatcher government, only the desolate remnants of former mining villages.

But for the people whose families were affected by the famous strikes, this history is very easily recalled. One such person is Pulp’s Russell Senior who, along with Sheffield-based DJ Ralph Parmar – better known as Ralph Razor – has written a musical production based on the miners’ strike.

The pair started penning the script for the play in April 2010 but the production process was somewhat inhibited by Senior’s massive reunion tour with Pulp. “When we went on tour with Pulp the production was put on hold – I had to learn about 140 songs in a matter of days.”

Senior is the son of a Sheffield steelworker who lost his job in the 1980s, so watching Thatcher turn her attention to the miners felt very close to home.

His memories have been mined for the production’s material. “I was 18 when the strike was happening and I have drawn from that experience in the production.

“It was horrendous – Britain’s Vietnam War. It was awful seeing people you know all around you being made unemployed by the decisions of a Tory government.”

Senior said: “Thatcher was deliberately provocative in the way she orchestrated it all. There was malice in the whole thing, she was building up coal stocks in anticipation of this and she turned the police into a paramilitary force. It was like Pinochet’s Chile. The ratio of men on the picket being hurt to police injuries was 20 to one.”

Senior and Parmar’s production company – Two Tribes – takes its name not only from the schism that divided Britain but also the chart-topping Frankie Goes to Hollywood track, which was about the Cold War, of the same year.

Ralph has spent time researching pop tracks from the period that were played on the radio and throughout South Yorkshire’s clubs – songs that were relevant to the mining community at that time.

The pair have also spent a considerable amount of time massing a wardrobe to rival any retro broadcast of a 1984 Top of the Pops programme, with racks and racks of bat-winged jumpers, jackets with Power Ranger shoulder pads and hideously unflattering skirts. In terms of historical detail, little has been overlooked.

But while Senior’s seniority has given Two Tribes historical clout, the idea to produce a musical about the strike was Parmar’s idea, as he explains. “I emailed Russell and said ‘I’ve got this idea’.” Senior interjects. “I wrote back and said ‘that is a ridiculous idea and I don’t want to be involved.’ But then I thought ‘actually, the idea is so preposterous that I do actually want to be involved.”

The production is based on the lives of two 18 or 19 year-old lads, one from a small pit village in Yorkshire and one from a small pit village in Nottinghamshire.

The two lads are friends, possibly more, but their relationship is hugely affected by the strike. The production spans a spectrum of qualities, from comedy to tragedy, and remains focused on the social context throughout.

“It also touches on the North/South divide,” says Senior. “Apparently the actual ‘divide’ between the north and south is in north Nottinghamshire and this divide relates to a Roman fortification. The line divides the rebellious Celtic north with the Romans.”

And while Two Tribes is a musical, Parmar is keen to make it subtle. “It’s not going to be like My Fair Lady where people break into song randomly, we bring songs into it in a plausible way and when it would naturally happen – like singing in the pit head showers.”

Two Tribes will be debuted this year and Senior and Parmar have plans to take it across the country. Its premier, however, will be here in Sheffield, on its historical home turf.

The pair are already holding auditions for parts and are looking for actors and actresses to star in the show.

For details, visit www.tt84.co.uk A snippet of the production will be performed at Tramlines this year.