A Song, A Dance and A New Stannary Parliament

S Pope & T Greeves, Site Visit at Vitifer Mine. Image: Alex Murdin 2013
Simon Pope & Tom Greeves on a site visit to Vitifer Mine, Dartmoor at the start of the project. Photo: Alex Murdin 2013

This project was commissioned by Spacex, a publicly-funded contemporary art gallery in Exeter in the South West of England. Responding to the planned re-opening of a tungsten mine near Dartmoor national park, this participatory artwork sought to explore human relationships with another metal ore that had played a decisive role in region's cultural, economic and social life. Speculating on how people might form new relationships with the tin that still lies under the moor, the project brought together local archæologists, cultural environmentalists, singers, musicians, and song-writers to pen a new folk song. A series of meetings – contemporary forms of the "stannary parliament" – were held at locations associated with the hey-day of tin-working. Discussing the historical and contemporary contexts of the industry led to the writing of a new "song to the tin" which acknowledged other transformative modes of relationship between humans and nonhumans, culture and nature. Pride of the Moor bridges this so-called Great Divide, and responds to the "cry of the tin" to think of the more-than-human basis for community or collective life on the moor. The song was presented, with other folk songs from the region, at several live events. Audio-recordings were made for wider distribution, and a version was broadcast on national television in the UK.

DETAILS

Series of participatory song-writing sessions, new folk song, and live performances.

Commissioned by Spacex (Exeter, UK)

Supported by the Esmeé Fairbairn Foundation in 2013-14.

Producer: Alex Murdin.

From Press Release, issued by Spacex, July 2013:

Simon Pope is working with people living in the Dartmoor area on a new commission whose working title is: A Song, A Dance and a New Stannary Parliament.

This new work will explore how traditional musical forms can address contemporary attitudes to land.

Since the closure of its tin mines, Dartmoor’s industrial landscape has become normalised as wilderness, seemingly indistinguishable from the results of geological processes. Yet the gullies and stacks of rock debris are testament of this metal ore’s immense influence on the life of Dartmoor and its people.

The work will ask, how might folk culture adapt to reflect new conditions or understandings? How could we choreograph a new relationship to the environment, and to Dartmoor in particular?

This project is commissioned by Spacex, Exeter, UK More information, updated throughout the project, here


A copy of the song's lyrics is now kept with All the Statutes of the Stannary. 1562, in Exeter College at the University of Oxford.

STUDIO RECORDING

The studio-recording of Pride Of The Moor, sung by Jim Causley, is available to download at http://jimcausley.bandcamp.com/releases —from his album Forgotten Kingdom.

VIDEO SHORTS

A series of short vignettes were produced by Spacex throughout the project.


This is the first, filmed at Blackenstone Quarry, near Moretonhampstead in Devon, UK.

The second was shot at Hooten Wheals, Hexworthy, Dartmoor.

PRIDE OF THE MOOR – A SONG TO DARTMOOR'S TIN

Following a series of participatory songwriting sessions from January until May 2014, Jim Causley penned Pride Of The Moor – a song to Dartmoor's tin.

This recording was made during the penultimate songwriting sessions at The King's Arms, South Zeal in April 2014, with Bill Murray and Simon Pope.

Song Lyrics

When first you found me as dark as the night

Bound up in granite, cold cassiterite

With quartz and with copper, iron and lead

My brothers all round me, lay dormant not dead

The streams of the moor, where first I was found

Before wheals uncovered my lode underground

A fiery dragon lights up the night sky

As a Will-o-the-Whisp tells there's stannum hard by

Pride of the moor we sing unto thee

In thanks for the treasure you've given so free

And should we have need to come find you again

We'll call and we'll listen for the cry of the tin

From black tin to white tin to ingot I be

Enslaved into form but from earth I am free

The twelve hour tide takes my tailings from me

I’m a traveller bound on the road to the sea

The first town was Tavistock, the stanneries came

Then to Chagford, Ashburton and Plympton the same

Midsummer to Michaelmas; the coinage time came

Assaying if I was as pure as my name

Pride of the moor…

For millions of years lying under the land

Anticipating the coming of man

With fire and stone tools in barrow and hoard

I became your fine jewellery, your shield, your sword

Your bowl and your tankard, galvanized o'er

And now used to solder as I did once before

Of all forms I’ve taken, without word, without choice

Like the church bells of Dartmoor that sing with my voice

Pride of the moor…

The song lyrics can also be downloaded here.


RADIO DOCUMENTARY

Programme for Phonic FM, on the project's development. Produced by John Wigzell. (August 2014)

THE NEW "STANNARY PARLIAMENTS"

The first meeting was held on 31st October 2013 in the former Stannary town of Tavistock. Subsequent meetings were also held in Chagford, Hexworthy, and South Zeal.

Tavistock Meeting

l-r: Jim Causley, Dr. Tom Greeves, Bill Murray, Isabel Galleymore. (2013)

l-r: St. Lawrence chapel Ashburton, Tom Greeves at Hooten Wheals, walking from the Forest Inn. (2014)

STUDIO SESSION

at Sound Gallery, Exeter on 24/07/14

TV BROADCAST

Jim Causley featured on the BBC's Countryfile on 28th June 2015, along with the Tinners' Chorus, singing Pride of the Moor.

© BBC 2015

RECITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE SONG

This short "recitation" was written to convey some of the concerns of the work to the song-writing group. It was published, with the song lyrics, in the Proboscis booklet and spoken after the song's performance at St. John's college, Oxford (Simon Pope, 2014).

Where will you meet, together again?

Free from winter's tyranny,

to cry alone, but now a chorus;

Gathered up, brothers in harmony.1

Tynners wythyn the countey of devon,2

you will we see us first assemble.

Gathered up on Crockernyrn Tor;3

a parliament we will resemble.

Streaming from the shores, you came;

When molten, we erupt.

But at rest we had been 'til now—

Shifted through hands, cupped.

Our lives transformed once you were free:

once isolated, elemental.4

From near-neighbours'—cold, fused tight,

You were forced to disassemble.

On my cell is inscribed 'Sn'.

Periodically, I'm in this ballad

As a “post-transition metal;

primordial; solid.”5

Our own near neighbour,

fleeing tightened reigns of matrimony,

heard you in her horses thunder;

“dolorous bells” with Copper, Lead, Antimony.6

NOTES

1“When truly brothers/men don’t sing in unison/butin harmony.” W. H. Auden, Thank You, Fog: Last Poems, 1st ed edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1974). 2Devon (England). Stannaries, All the Statutes of the Stannary. 1562 (Imprinted at London: By VVilliam Seres, dvvelling at the vvest ende of Paules churche at the signe of the Hedgehogge, 1562).–cited in Tom Greeves, Phil Newman, and Dartmoor Tinworking Research Group, The Great Courts of Devon Tinners, 1510 and 1710 ([Exeter]: Dartmoor Tinworking Research Group, 2011).p.1 3Devon (England). Stannaries, All the Statutes of the Stannary. 1562 . 4“Periodic Table (large Version),” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, January 7, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Periodic_table_(large_version)&oldid=589574469. 5Ibid. 6From Sylvia Plath's Sheep in Fog, written December 2nd 1962, (Sylvia Plath, Ariel Faber & Faber, 2010). Plath lived on the North Eastern fringes of Dartmoor—with Ted Hughes—in the years immediately preceding her death.in harmony.” W. H. Auden, Thank You, Fog: Last Poems, 1st ed edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1974

LIVE EVENTS

EXETER & OXFORD, UK

May 10th 2014 at Spacex, Exeter, UK;

12th May 2014 at St. John's College, University of Oxford, UK

A full set of Dartmoor and tin-related songs by Jim Causley and Bill Murray, including the "Belstone version" of Widecombe Fair, The Whimple Wassail, Jan Pook, The Bellringing Song, and Harry Trewin; an introduction and recitation by Simon Pope, and elucidation of song's lyrics by Dr. Tom Greeves.

Simon Pope, Bill Murray and Jim Causley at Spacex, Exeter (UK) 10th May 2014. Photo: Rob Darch 2013
Recording of songs from the live event at Spacex, May 2014.

37th DARTMOOR FOLK FESTIVAL

9th August 2014 at South Zeal, Devon, UK

Presented as part of Bill Murray's ongoing Devonshire Dialect sessions, Pride Of The Moor was sung by Jim Causley to a full-house at the South Zeal Victory Hall on Saturday 9th August 2014. This event marks something of a full-circle – the project started with a visit to Jim's session at the very same venue at the previous year's festival – and returns the song to its constituency, in the town where it was written and first sung in The King's Arms pub.

From an article for the Dartmoor Tinworking Research Group, November 2014:

During a tour of New Zealand in early 2013, I was welcomed onto a Maori meeting place with a traditional song describing the harmonious relationship between my hosts, their ancestors and the local mountains and rivers. Responding in kind, I sang several verses of Widecombe Fair—a song from my native Devon which relays a more troubled relationship between humans and "natural" things. When commissioned by Spacex, I decided to addresses this deficit and to produce a new folk song for Dartmoor—one which would explore how we might develop a less exploitative relationship with 'natural resources'. The re-opening of Hemerdon and the possibility of additional mining in the National Park brought an additional urgency to the project.

My recent research engages with a new materialist philosophy preoccupied with the agency of material things, their capability to transform as well as to be transformed: plutonium's undeniable agency, effecting the state of other things despite human will, for example; or the "vibrancy" of all matter, the "call" of which we might become attuned. This has profound implications for our understanding of environmental issues, with the very concept of environment placed in question. The distinction can no longer be made between environment as background and as “material thing.” We can no longer consider ourselves actors on Nature's stage. Rather, we are in a lively, mutually-transformative relationship with all things—humans and non-human. It is my thesis, in A Song, A Dance… that we can understand this relationship as dialogic and that an art practice which already works with the concepts of participation and dialogue is well-suited to such enquiry.

The concept of participation in art, as in other disciplines, brings with it a strong ethical dimension, with human participants not objectified (as they might otherwise be). My own research seeks to reintroduce objects back into participatory art on these non-objectified terms. This re-engagement could be considered dialogic in recognizing other things—human or otherwise—as Thou, rather than It.

From initial meetings with experts and enthusiasts, the project began in earnest in October 2013 with events held in the Stannary towns of Tavistock, Chagford and Ashburton, and The Forest Inn, Hexworthy. A core group of participants was formed: cultural environmentalist Dr. Tom Greeves; traditional singer and dialect champion Bill Murray; and musician Jim Causley. Museum's collections officers, writers and curators later joined in the discussion of tin's role in the economic and cultural life of Dartmoor. In keeping with a dialogic approach, the group identified ways in which tin transforms others and has been transformed, such as during geological and bronze-casting processes, for example.

Song-writing sessions were held in South Zeal—close to nearby copper and tin workings. Gathering influences from industrial-archaeological research, traditional song, poetry and contemporary art, Pride Of The Moor establishes a novel relationship between humans and tin: “We'll call and we'll listen for the cry of the tin” is a call-and-response, establishing a dialogue between two extremes of "thing"—as material transformations which operate despite consciousness.

Creative Commons License

Pride Of The Moor by Jim Causley (with Bill Murray & Simon Pope) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.