We Made the Steel – Folk Roundabout

WE MADE THE STEEL – The Roaring Forties
(Roaring Forties RF043CD)

[From Folk Roundabout #167, March/April 2013) – UK folk magazine covering all the North East of England]

Sydney-based ensemble The Roaring Forties includes amongst its ranks the redoubtable Margaret Walters and John Warner. Though nominally a shanty group, its fourth and most recent recording departs from that repertoire in presenting a themed collection of songs and poems concerning the steel industry in NSW in the 1960s, all but two of the items penned by group member Robin Connaughton (who himself worked in the industry at that time), with assistance from John Warner.

Inclusive of the six parts of the linking narrative The Ballad Of Lovely Tom (concerning the life of a Polish migrant), this disc comprises 17 individual pieces (15 songs and two poems), which together tackle topics arising directly from Robin’s personal experiences of the workplace as well as environmental destruction (The Price Of Steel), the effects of the industry on the local communities (Red Kembla), the eviction of the area’s original inhabitants (Hill 60), a Steelworks Blues and even a kind of steelmen’s shanty (the proud anthem We Made The Steel).

Some of you might already be familiar with Weevils In The Flour, Mike Leyden’s setting of Dorothy Hewitt’s powerfully evocative poem which explores the extent to which Depression work conditions provoked the union movement and its writers; Margaret turns in a fine rendition here. There’s no shortage of humour though, with the sleazy swagger of The Steelworks Cat, The Sankey-Benson Press Shop (a light-hearted look at the role of women in the steelworks), Mount Ousley Breakdown (an amalgamated account of an incident involving a runaway truck), and The Galvanising Shop (the tune for which closely resembles the shanty Hullabaloo Hullabalay).

Not only are the singing and playing on this disc uniformly excellent and highly characterful, as you’d expect from this crew, but the actual presentation of this release is also exemplary, with a lavish booklet containing full lyrics, while comprehensive song notes are available.  A benchmark release; and highly entertaining and inspiring to boot.

Trevor Lister

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