For over 400 years, the glassmaking industry nourished the communities of Stourbridge in the West Midlands, UK, where – thanks to the skills of immigrant French Huguenots – it became the most important glassmaking area of the country. In recent years the industry has faded away with the last factory apprentice, Malcolm Andrews, now teaching artisan makers, who are the last link in this glassmaking chain.
In 2019 Alan Ellsmore (of Ruskin Mill Trust college, built on the site of the old Glassworks) invited Midlands singer-songwriter Dan Whitehouse to write a song cycle based on this social history. The project was supported by National Heritage Lottery funding sourced by a Ruskin Mill Trust/Dudley MBC joint bid. Storyteller John Edgar and Dan were then given access to an oral history archive which featured interviews with over 100 former glass workers who contributed their memories of working in the glass trade, alongside new interviews conducted by the pair in person.
From the huge production line and cone-shaped furnaces of the past to the reflections on bespoke pieces created in more recent times, this work celebrates, through songs and narration, the largely untold stories of the region’s master craftsmen/craftswomen and their communities. The resultant live show, augmented by John Edgar’s incredible storytelling and narration, was featured at the International Festival of Glass in 2019 and again in 2022 (coincidentally, the United Nations International Year of Glass) as well as at the Yorkshire Festival of Storytelling 2021.
Now, thanks to Arts Council England funding, each song and the ‘radio ballad’ style song cycle with narration will feature on this luminous and edifying two disc album, out on 30th September. The album launch is at The Glass House Centre in Stourbridge on Friday 21st October. Working with a sparkling array of musical talent including John Elliot, Chris Cleverley, Kim Lowings, Gustaf Ljunggren, Nicole Justice and Lukas Drinkwater, the album glides between electronica, country, rock, hip-hop, folk and pop – with Dan using this deep well of social history as his inspiration.
Voices From The Cones will be released across all digital platforms and via Bandcamp on Friday September 30th.
This is Dan’s second glass related release of 2022 which is, appropriately, the International Year of Glass. The Glass Age (released in July on CD and December on vinyl) looks at how our human experience and ways of connecting have changed through the ‘glass’, the screens, virtual meetings and communication.
Artist’s website: https://danwhitehouse.bandcamp.com/album/voices-from-the-cones-2