MARK GWYNNE JONES – Voices From The Peak (Talking Elephant TECD473)

Voices From The PeakI wasn’t born in the Peak District but I was bought up there and lived there for the best part of twenty years so the landscape holds a special meaning for me. These days I can’t recognise the towns I knew. As Andy White remarked about Belfast, I have the back-story but not the front-story. Mark Gwynne Jones tells the back stories in Voices From The Peak, a double-CD comprising three stories of the land. Supported by The Peak District National Park and Arts Council England as well as Derbyshire County Council and Cromford Mills, these stories are essentially the soundtracks of three short films.

The first piece is ‘Burning Drake’. In spoken word and his own poetry, field recordings, background music and interviews he tells the story of the mining of lead, fluorspar and the unique Blue John. The miners talking to Mark describe the underground workings and the dangers of flooding and radon gas. One memorable interchange about the radioactive gas runs like this; “Did anyone take a Geiger counter down there? We used to have a bloke called Fred”. Fred’s fate is not disclosed.

Volume 2 is ‘Snow!’. As a boy, I remember the winter of 1962-63, which started in November and seemed to go on until Easter. If you didn’t take a shovel indoors in the evening you probably wouldn’t get out in the morning. Even that paled into insignificance beside the great snow of 1947, pictured on the back cover and in the video below. Memories of those years are brought to life by Mark’s narration and music including the distinctive voices of Ashley Hutchings and Hannah James. Old legends are mixed with unlikely tales from more modern times. My grandfather would call it “romancing”.

The third story is ‘Kinder Scout’. If you have never seen Kinder or walked upon it you can’t really appreciate its imposing grandeur. The story of Kinder Scout embraces the source of the River Derwent which powered the first water-powered cotton mill, now known as Arkwright’s Mill. There are vivid descriptions of the appalling working conditions in the mills and the lies told to recruit workers. I can’t help thinking that some things haven’t changed all that much. Of equal significance is the Mass Trespass of 1932 which led, directly or indirectly, to the National Parks Act and the founding of the first national park. Ewan MacColl summed it up in ‘Manchester Rambler’, heard here in a new version

I really can’t tell if you have to know the Peak District to fully appreciate Voices From The Peak. Some of the stories are timeless and deserve to be heard and appreciated and many of them conjure up memories for me.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Snow!’ – the movie: