Snailbeach Mines Trust are the custodians of the Snailbeach Lead Mines in Shropshire. There was mining there from the eighteenth century through to 1955, although there is evidence of workings dating as far back as Roman times. There is a fascinating history of the site at shropshiremines.org.uk/snailbeach, as well as visitor information etc.
Eric Heath spent much of his childhood in the area, and unsurprisingly, all of the abandoned shafts, buildings and blocked off tunnels were an endless source of fascination. The album is a kind of aural exploration of the major features of the mines, with Heath sketching musical evocations that are obviously deeply felt.
In the main, there is a melancholy ambience in this music, with the ghosts from history seeping through field recordings. He uses guitar, analogue synths and all manner of effects to create a sound world that bears some resemblance to Christian Fennesz’s work. On tracks like Perkins Level, treated guitar weaves a spell of something approaching desolation, while Chapel Shaft conjours up the ghostly echoes of those who used to work the mines. Lordshill Engine Shaft breaks the spell with an angry clatter of machinery, but this too fades into silence.
Snailbeach District Railway snaps us firmly into the present, with a bright tune and the huff-puff of a restored steam locomotive, and the sounds of chattering tourists. Then it lifts off into something of sweeping grandeur as the train steams away into the past. The only vocal tune is the short, folky Tragedy At George’s Shaft that tells an impressionistic tale of an 1895 accident that killed seven mineworkers. It sounds a bit Damon Albarn-ish, but not in a bad way.
Snailbeach Mines Trust is a deeply felt and beautifully realised work that does a fantastic job of painting a musical picture of the history and wonder of the area. I’ve never been, but it isn’t hard to paint a mental picture of the place through Heath’s interpretation.
1 . Black Tom Shaft 2:05
2 . Scott Level 3:40
3 . Chapel Shaft 3:51
4 . Day Level 3:31
5 . Upper Works Reservoir 5:58
6 . Tragedy At George’s Shaft 2:24
7 . Perkins Level 4:17
8 . Lordshill Engine Shaft 2:40
9 . Snailbeach District Railway 3:47