Updated: Dec 22, 2020
After a recent project with Cath Ralph, Gillie is sharing a heartfelt new recording, "Journeyman Towns". See the lyric video on YouTube
This song is drawn from childhood memories and how I view the roots of my birthplace, Stoke-on-Trent.
Previously it was simply a cluster of small Staffordshire hamlets, where craftsmen potters gathered, drawn by geological good fortune that birthed all of of the raw materials a potter needs, in abundance.
At the inception of The Industrial Revolution, The Potteries drew in huge numbers of migrant craftsmen (Journeymen), labourers, artists and entrepreneurs. In an explosion of diversity, the labour force formed its own culture: bonded by the shared, perilous risk of travelling to find work.,
This probably explains why Stoke on Trent held a reputation as the friendliest place in the country.
'The Black Hills'
Huge coal slack waste piles flanked the six towns. As children, we slid down them and became covered in black dust.
'A Hole in The Road'
My Grandma told the story of a man walking along the road when a hole opened up and he fell in. The hole was so deep that firemen were unable to find him. After three days they gave up and held his funeral service over the hole. Apparently the man, Thomas Holland of Hanley, had been singing the Salvation Army song, "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, I’ll Be There", as he disappeared.
'A fire underground'
In the Potteries, coal seams were close to the surface and extensively excavated, creating a warren of adjoining tunnels. Once ignited, fires would set through the air drawn veins and sometimes take years to burn out. Grandma once told me that, ”smoke rose up from a crack in the hot pavement for eighteen months”.
'When you turn it up'
A habit of Potteries folk, when travelling abroad, is to turn a cup upside down and identify from which of the six towns it comes from. A few years ago during a trip to Berlin, I sat in a reclaimed furniture and chalk paint cafe soaking up the heady, inspirational edge of a brave and not yet gentrified city. As I lifted and rolled the threadbare petaled belly of my china cup, I found 'Made in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent' inside a proud little foot.
Gillie Nicholls © 2018
Gillie Nicholls / music, lyrics, vocals and acoustic guitar
Cath Ralph / overall production, backing vocals and fiddle.
Scott Ralph / recording, electric slide and lap steel guitar.