Background History

Gary Clarke grew up during the 1980s in the working-class mining village of Grimethorpe, South Yorkshire, which was home to one of the major national coal mining collieries operating in the UK, as well as the renowned Grimethorpe Colliery Band as featured in the film Brassed Off.

Many of Gary’s family worked at the coalface and all were involved in the political fight that would forever shape British history.

As a young boy, Gary experienced first-hand the heart wrenching results and the turbulent end of the 1984/5 miners’ strike which tore local families apart and shattered his working class community.

Marking the passing of the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike Gary has created an ambitious, accessible and emotive piece of dance theatre to tour on the middle scale.

“COAL is a response to my upbringing in the mining village of Grimethorpe, and under the iron fist of Thatcher. It's about trying to capture a time in British history that seems to be being forgotten. It's an attempt to keep memories of the mining industry and the miners' strike alive in the public consciousness because I believe that what happened in the 1980's shaped the future of this country not only for the economy but for the fabric of our society and the arts too.

It's not really a political show, nor is it meant to be provocative. It's deeply deeply personal, and I just wanted to share how it felt to live through these times. How it felt then, and how it feels now as the pain, loss and division linger on in our stranded communities.

Those communities are at the heart of this piece, just as they were at the heart of the mining industry. I wanted very much to celebrate them, and to proudly create a piece of contemporary dance that is properly working class. I also wanted to try to capture some of the gritty realities of working down the mines - the confinement, the risks and the pressures, and choreographically I wanted to explore vocabularies of labour and effort. I've attempted to keep one specific objective in mind throughout - very simply to try to help an audience feel how it was to be there.”


Gary Clarke. Photo by Joe Armitage