We remember Aberfan – through songs

People tend to declare disasters as natural, not made by human beings. But even great technical catastrophes like Tschernobyl and Fukushima only happened because persons in charge acted wrong, made mistakes – some knowing and willingly and some not. And the reasons for these failures are greed on the one hand and poverty on the other. People build houses in earthquake areas which are not appropriate but they have no choice. The National Coal Board with its mine Merthyr Vale Colliery  had a choice. They knew that beneath the colliery spoil tip there were springs and that these springs could send a mountain in motion. And on October 21st in 1966 the massive tip moved towards Aberfan and buried 144 human beings, among them 116 children.

For further information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberfan_disaster

A BBC documentation: Aberfan tip slide disaster October 1966, South Wales

In 1980 the Mekons released a version of the Trimdon Grange Explosion to be followed by Abernant 1984/85 in 1985: songs about mining accidents. Jon Langford had a strong connection to the mining issue having been brought up in Newcastle in Wales not far away from the mines of the Welsh valleys.

On his first solo LP he released a song called Tubby Brothers with the following lines:

I remember Aberfan
Rows of little crosses upon the hill.

That was the first time I heard about Aberfan. In 2020 Langford released a series of singles and one featured the Song „Aberfan 1966“, played by G.W. Sok.

G.W.Sok has been the singer for the EX from 1979 until 2008.


Langford has to say this about Aberfan on the back of the singles cover:


It was not quite correct when I said that I learned about Aberfan from Jon Langford. Before that I already had a double cd comprising two albums Mike Hart had made. Mike Hart was a member of Liverpool R&B combo Roadrunners who made two LPs recorded in Hamburg in the early 60s. Later he became a member of Liverpool Scene, who released THE LP with music and poetry in 1968 „Admazing adventures of …“. After leaving Liverpool Scene Mike Hart recorded two solo albums: Mike Hart Bleads and Basher, Chalky, Pongo And Me. „Aberfan“ came with Mike Hart Bleeds and was produced by John Peel. Hart is accompanied mainly by the Liverpool band Business.

These are Mike Hart‘s solo recordings:



Of course Aberfan has always been an important issue with Welsh singers and there may be dozens of songs unpublished until this day. A quite comprehensive and helpful discussion you‘ll find here:


Most of the following information I got from there.

Colin Wilkie says: I wrote two songs about Aberfan, but only „Morning“ was really satisfying. Shirley sang it on album we made for the German company „pläne „back in 1972. The LP was called „Morning“ and has now been re-released as a double CD in tandem with another LP we made around the same time called „Outside The City „. (https://www.discogs.com/de/Colin-Wilkie-Shirley-Hart-Morning/release/1786132)

David Ackles: Aberfan (Five and dime)

By the way, Ackles‘ LP Five & Dime was reissued in 2004 by Raven Records as Five & Dime 


DAVID ACKLES Aberfan (1973)

It was rainy in the morning as the men left for the mine,
Past the schoolyard in the morning.
At the colliery production charts read, “Men, we’re doing fine,”
As the rain fell in the morning.
The cold board said your number seven tip will stay in line,
It’s been two years this morning.
But no-one told the children of Aberfan.

One hundred and sixteen caps and shawls
Danced the halls of the school-house.
While the grown-up inspectors drank their tea
In the safe, dry lee of the tool-house
As the rain fell in the morning on Aberfan.

Did no-one hear the stones move when the tip began to fall?
Did no-one feel the slag shake? Was no-one there at all?
They were on the phone for Swansea taking orders for more,
They were going about their business, minding the store,
And five minutes later, they were asking, “What for?”

The call for silence hushed the crowd
Who searched the clouds for answers.
While they listened for life and held their breath
The sound of death held the dancers
As the rain fell in the morning on Aberfan.

But no-one told the children,
But no-one told the children.
And it’s always the children.


Martin Carthy released „Palaces of gold“ on his LP (Crown of horn). Later it was rereleased on several Carthy compilations. In the songs it says: 

Buttons would be pressed.
Rules would be broken.
Strings would be pulled
and magic words spoken.
Invisible fingers would mold
Palaces of gold

The song has been written by Leon Rosselson: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Rosselson

Palaces of Gold

The Strawbs played „Not all the flowers grow“ on their album Acoustic Strawbs – Baroque & Roll where they address the situation in that Abefan classrom when the mountain started moving towards the children:

Not All the Flowers Grow

Welsh singer Paul Child addresses what he calls the price of coal. I‘d prefer to call it the fruits of greed rather:

The Price Of Coal – Paul Child

Dave Collins: Aberfan 

Aberfan – original song – © Dave Collins

Thom Pharrott is featured on the Best of Broadside 1962-88 with his song „The Aberfan Coal Tip Tragedy“ (https://www.discogs.com/de/Various-The-Best-Of-Broadside-1962-1988/release/2435513)

Thom Parrott – The Aberfan Coal Tip Tragedy

Bryn Yemm & The Morriston Orpheus Choir: Aberfan


Ewan McColl / Peggy Seeger: Grey October

I think „Grey October“ is something special. The catastrophe is not isolated or unique. And combining the blindness and ignorance of the National Coal Board with war crimes of the US Army gives us the international dimension both happenings deserve.


Jack Warshaw: As far as I can remember, Grey October started at a Critics Group songwriting session at Ewan and Peg’s house. Everyone had heard of Aberfan, but few had news of the bombing of a school in Thuydan, Vietnam in which scores of children were killed. We were deeply committed to opposing the war. The idea arose to link the two events. Several of the group, including me, contributed lyrics and suggested melodies. Peggy came back next session with the final melody. It’s still a haunting song I think. Glad it was recorded and is still remembered. Sometimes powerful songs fade because they could not be commercially distributed. Compare, for example, Neil Young’s „Ohio“ with my much more explicit „Kent State Massacre“ – one got mass distribution, the other only made it to a „protest“ label.

(C.Parker/Critics Group/P.Seeger)

Grey October in Glamorgan
High pitheaps where the houses stand
Fog in the valley, backshift ending
Children awaken in Aberfan

Warm October in Thi Binh Province
Huts of bamboo and rattan
Sun comes up – repair gangs stop
And children waken in Thuy Dan

Pithead hooter sounds from Merthyr
Load the coal in the waiting trams
Shoot the slag down the high pitheap
While children eat in Aberfan

Ox carts rattle down Thi Binh Highway
Work begins on the broken land
Night’s work ended, the roadway’s mended
Children eat in Thuy Dan

Dai Dan Evans grabs his satchel
Michael Jones his bread and jam
Five to nine and the school bell ringing
Time for school in Aberfan

School bell ringing, children running
Down by the river and across the dam
Hot sun burning, time for learning
Time for school in Thuy Dan

Lessons started in Pantglas Junior
Through the fog a black wave ran
Under the weight of the man-made mountain
Children die in Aberfan

Lessons start in the Thi Binh schoolhouse
And another day began
Bombers fly in the morning sky
And children die in Thuy Dan

Tears are shed for Glamorgan children
And the world mourns Aberfan
But who will weep for the murdered children
Under the rubble of Thuy Dan?

Grey October in Glamorgan
Warm October in Vietnam
Where children die while we stand by
And shake the killer by the hand

Source: lyric sheet accompanying Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger ‚The Angry Muse‘ Argo LP ZDA 83 [1968].

Note to song: ‚This song was created by 16 people. The idea for it was conceived by Charles Parker, a BBC producer. Over a period of 6 weeks the song was shaped and re-shaped by members of the Critics Group and the tune was set to it by Peggy Seeger‘.

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