Award winning singer-songwriter Reg Meuross will release his 15th album on April 7 2023. The groundbreaking project is the culmination of over four years of research, focusing on the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade – in particular in the South West of England.
A global musical palette
The album – recorded at Mill Farm Music in Dorset – features a brand new collaboration for Reg, with kora master Jali Fily Cissokho alongside acclaimed concertina virtuoso Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne. The album brings a global musical palette with Meuross’s striking lyrics sitting alongside his signature guitar/banjo, enhanced with Cohen-Braithwaite’s punchy playing and Cissokho’s sparkling contribution.
Uncovering these stories has been the mission of Somerset-based Reg Meuross since 2018, although the idea has been a slow burner for much longer than that. As a songwriter with a sharp political edge and deep social conscience, it was just a matter of time before he set to work on this pertinent issue of the age.
A hidden history
Reg’s research encompassed churches, country and city communities, family trees, parish records, stories of vicars, maids, sailors, mothers. fathers and children. With Stolen From God he explores a hidden history of England and tells the stories in folk song format. The songs are steeped in the traditions of this land: seafaring, foreign trade, industry, farming, war, politics, social history, class systems and country life.
Some years ago I was in Exeter Cathedral and was looking at the Martyrs Pulpit, dedicated to John Coleridge Patteson who was killed by Islanders in Nukapu in the South Pacific while doing ‘missionary work’.
Although Patteson wasn’t a slave trader, he stole indigenous young men and forcibly converted them to Christianity. I couldn’t understand why he had been celebrated as a martyr, when he had essentially stolen children from their families.
This injustice gave me the starting point which in turn led to me researching the wider legacy of the slave trade in the South West. The culmination of this work is the song cycle Stolen From God.
With a vast body of evidence across the South-West of England, and a pressing need for the stories to be told, Stolen From God features a set of incredible songs, which tell the challenging and often harrowing tales from the region’s past.
Reg goes on to say:
Years of writing and research have revealed to me some remarkable stories of defiance and bravery, courage and endurance. As my research for Stolen From God progressed, I realised how little I knew about Black History in Britain; how little I’d been taught growing up; how little I knew of Empire and how it was made; how little I knew of the grand mansions and sprawling estates, and the enormous handed-down wealth, and the great men and women of history who symbolised greatness and colonial and racial superiority and to a large extent how their greatness was achieved, and at what cost to others…
Many of the big country estates have links with slavery. The connections go right through the upper classes and even the clergy. For example, the Rolle family of Barnstaple had their slave labour estates in Barbados; the Vicar in Hatherleigh was bequeathed 8 slaves in a will; John Hawkins (along with his great friend Sir Francis Drake) was on the first Slave expedition from Plymouth in 1562. Ironically, Bridgwater became the first British town to petition Parliament for abolition in 1785.
Of course, a prominent figure in the Trade was Edward Colston of Bristol, whose legacy is everywhere in that city; schools, streets, Almshouses, hospitals, churches all benefited from his generosity. Generosity enabled by his role as a member of the Royal African Company, which stole an estimated 84,000 enslaved men, women and children in the time that Colston was with the company.
I hope with my songs and this project to make a useful contribution by bringing some light to a complex issue, and with the beautiful contributions from these incredible musicians, another way of hearing these stories.
Touring begins with a launch at Dartington’s Great Hall April 13 and will encompass Sidmouth Folk Festival and Whitby Folk Week with a particular focus on Black History month in October
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