It’s All In The Song
I will be honest with you. I really struggle with people who care so little for art, literature, or music that they give only a passing glance or listen to work that has been many months, if not years, in the making. I know. It’s always been like it, but that doesn’t make me feel any less irritated by it. Out of respect for other musicians, if they ask me to listen then I listen all the way through. If they don’t, then I may listen through anyway, to at least one of their songs. In doing so, I have found some real gems.
On Monday my wife and I drove up to Watergrove Reservoir. We have had such a dry summer so far that I wanted to see how far the water level had dropped. Watergrove Farm is the second track of my debut album #Moorscape, and I wrote the song almost as an afterthought. I had been writing songs on the theme of the political and social history of the British moorlands, and it finally dawned on me that a landscape so shaped by water probably justified a song about water!
Like many songs mine carry a story. Watergrove Farm is very much a folk song, and its mood is set by a solitary cittern introduction. The valley today is quiet and at times bleak, so I felt that would accurately represent the scene. It’s a sad song, a song about a transient agricultural community that had established a degree of permanence following the construction of four textile mills in the valley. Roads Mill was the longest established, but the first of three constructions of Watergrove Mill was a small building called Water Grove Farm which in 1841 was home to a collective of hand loom weavers and wool spinners.
A village called Watergrove never actually existed. Its name came much later and embraces a collection of hamlets whose small populations served the farms and later the mills. When the valley was inundated by the reservoir in 1938, a total of 200 people were displaced. While the individual hamlets each have their own longer histories, it is generally thought that the collective known as ‘Watergrove’ was in existence for only 100 years.
There were about 45 farm buildings in the Watergrove valley. Watergrove Farm itself had previously been known as “Lower Marl’d Earth” and it occupied a site on Ramsden Road, the largely intact cobbled main street that still runs down the valley. What remains of Ramsden Road can be seen in these photographs, where at low water the kerbstones as well as the cobbles and some of the paving flags are still visible. The site of third, final, and largest manifestation of Watergrove Mill was on the flat land to the left of the cobbled street in the first picture. My wife’s great grandmother lived with her second husband in a back to back terraced house on the other side of Ramsden Road. The site of the house will be just a few yards under the water line. It is not clear what work the family did there, but they would have lived hard lives in unforgiving terrain.
“God Be With You Till We Meet Again” was the last hymn sung in the village’s Wesleyan chapel before it was closed to make way for Watergrove Reservoir. It felt appropriate to build the chorus of the song around those words because it reflected the temporary activities of many who lived there. Today, this beautiful if bleak location has a feel of ‘lives once lived’.
I hope this short account will give some insight into why I wrote the song in the first place, and that having read this you will be encouraged to listen to the stories behind the songs of the other musicians you listen to. There is so much more depth to art than is ever truly acknowledged, and today we are privileged to have the leisure time to explore and understand art that would have been denied to factory and farm workers of Victorian England as they worked their long and arduous shifts until it was time to sleep. So here is Watergrove Farm, performed by me and #MattSteady at Penwortham’s St. Mary’s Church in May…