When it was decided in the early part of 1987 that U2 would not be performing their song “Red Hill Mining Town” live in concert, I imagine that the members of U2 were of the collective opinion that they wanted to do something else to show their solidarity with the mining communities of the UK. I am of the opinion that, due to this desire, U2 resolved that they would instead perform a cover of Peggy Seeger’s song “Springhill Mining Disaster”. The first performance of this folk classic was given at a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration for Irish group The Dubliners, which was aired as an episode of the Late Late Show. The Dubliners themselves had often covered “Springhill Mining Disaster”, so U2’s choice of song was appropriate for the event, as well as being a notable social commentary in it’s own right. U2 then went on to perform “Springhill Mining Disaster” at fifteen shows on their worldwide Joshua Tree Tour. Bono would often introduce the song by stating that he wished that he had heard it on the radio during the miner’s strike, which is what started me down the path to my belief that “Springhill Mining Disaster” was a spiritual replacement for “Red Hill Mining Town”.
The lyrics to “Springhill Mining Disaster” are about the underground earthquake that occurred in Springhill, Nova Scotia, Canada. This earthquake trapped over one hundred fifty miners. Seventy-five of those died, while ninety-nine were rescued, some more than a week after the initial event. The song talks about the state of mind of the miners, being trapped with “no water or no bread, so we’re living on songs and hope instead”. The song also talks about the ultimate sacrifice made by those miners who lost their lives, mentioning that “there’s blood on the coal and the miners lie on roads that never seen sun nor sky”.
Peggy Seeger originally performed “Springhill Mining Disaster” (then known as “The Ballad of Springhill”) a cappella, but U2 gave it the full band treatment. Edge plays a mournful sounding guitar part while Larry’s rolling drums echo the sound of the earthquake from which the song take it’s name. As befits the song’s origins in the folk music of the late 1950’s, the original version was quite sedate, but U2’s version of the song was powerful and earth-shaking, particularly when it came to Bono’s moving vocal.While the original instills a feeling of peaceful contemplation on the listener, U2’s cover makes me feel angry at the mistreatment of the miners, and sad for the lives lost, at the same time.
Although U2 have never released a studio version of “Springhill Mining Disaster” , there was an official release of their Late Late Show performance, on a CD of the entire tribute to The Dubliners. Due to the lack of a studio version, I find it unlikely that U2 will revisit “Springhill Mining Disaster” on the upcoming Joshua Tree Tour 2017, especially since the band will be performing the song that it served as a replacement for. Still, “Springhill Mining Disaster” does deserve it’s own chapter in the tale of The Joshua Tree, and so I thought it would be a fitting topic for today’s article.