Dan Whitehouse continues his glass sequence with Voices From The Cones, a song cycle based on stories from the glass-making industry of Stourbridge. The song cycle became a live show and this double-CD set presents both forms: the songs and the complete show with John Edgar’s narration. I do believe that this is the best way to listen to the album, at least first time round. The storytelling puts the songs into a proper context which helps because Dan Whitehouse hasn’t written a conventional piece. He’s supported, musically, by John Elliot, Chris Cleverley, Kim Lowings, Gustaf Ljunggren, Nicole Justice and Lukas Drinkwater performing in a variety of styles.
The record opens with ‘Voices From The Cones’, a sort of overture discussing the employment choices in the West Midlands and the memories of Malcolm Andrews, the last apprentice to work at Stourbridge. ‘Moving’ links the incoming French Huguenot glassworkers with the probably little-known fact that glass is actually a super-cooled liquid, meaning that old window panes are thicker at the bottom than the top.
From here we venture into the personal and social stories beginning with the pounding percussion of ‘Rouse Ye Women’, the tale of trade unionist Mary Macarthur and inspired by the Strongest Links Vase celebrating the women’s chainmakers’ strike led by Mary. ‘Front Door’ has a music-hall feel telling of glassmakers selling ornaments in the pub to supplement their wages. ‘Flip Flop’ was another clandestine product, a musical instrument incorporating a thin glass membrane. ‘Picking Up Sticks’ is a rite of passage ritual.
‘The Last Apprentice’ and ‘The Old Savoy’ both come from the stories of Malcolm Andrews. The latter is about sex education given a country beat (Country & West Midlands? Sorry.). The story comes from the advice “get off at the Old Savoy. Don’t go all the way to the garage”. ‘Rose Bowl’ and ‘Free Beer’ tell of the kindness and generosity of the employers, something you might not expect from the times.
‘The Hive’ is, in the original, an instrumental because there wasn’t time for idle chat. The hives were the conical kilns – the cones of the title. Finally we have ‘Hands Heart Head’ bringing the story up to date with the artisan glassmakers who now occupy the site.
You might think that Voices From The Cones is aiming for something of a niche market but you’d be wrong. It isn’t quite what I was expecting but that’s no bad thing. It’s very enjoyable, packed with humour and stands up musically as well as a splendid example of storytelling.
Artist’s website: https://www.dan-whitehouse.com/
‘The Old Savoy’ – live: