A Derelict Chorale

Photo by Jon Pratty

Spring 2020 saw tales of Hastings’ America Ground brought to life by UK writer, composer and producer Chris Thorpe-Tracey as part of a new project by MSL Digital, called A Derelict Chorale. From January until Easter, Chris was Artist-in-Residence within the America Ground, exploring the fractious town politics of the 1800s, including some of the key characters and incidents. Chris collaborated with Hastings’ thriving social media history groups and our community of local musicians. He built connections and searched for stories. By pulling these stories from the bricks and mortar he breathed life into them in tunes and tales using material from the Hastings Museum collection, local archives and from the musical memory of the community. Chris’s songs can be found here: https://maercstapa.bandcamp.com/releases.

Go to our Salons page where local musician and composer, Debbie Warren, and historical researcher, Julie Gidlow, open up the suite of songs and interview Chris about the work.

Over the past 20 years Chris has toured and recorded more than 12 solo albums and collaborations. He has also always been interested in the roots of where music comes from in the UK. In 2015 he was made the inaugural National Trust Creative Fellow at The Workhouse, in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. At the National Trust-owned Workhouse, Chris embedded with staff and volunteers to create a new set of folk ballads to capture the voices of those who lived at one of the first Victorian-era workhouses. In 2013 Chris was also Writer-in-Residence at the Royal Pavilion & Museums in Brighton, finding new ways to share stories from across the museum sites.

For his America Ground residency, Chris collaborated with Hastings’ thriving social media history groups and our community of local musicians, to create a digital performance and a legacy of songs and lyrics enriched with imagery and text. He built connections and searched for stories.

To set the political and social context for his work, Chris has also researched and written a Spotify playlist which excavates other music of the Napoleonic era, many of which echo the themes exposed in his song cycle.

A key feature of the residency, funded via an Arts Council England lottery grant, is that Chris will make the work shareable and copyright-free. The recorded product of workshops will be hosted on MSL’s RSA-funded Smart Heritage Map , an interactive platform accessible on the streets of Hastings and to wider online audiences.

You can watch and hear what Chris has to say here:

A one-hour video interview with Chris about the background to the project including the making of the music. https://youtu.be/LGAeFVRmGYU

A 30-minute version of the above video concentrating on researching and writing the songs. https://youtu.be/6ZUtLLLta4A

Commission Opportunity for Creatives! A Derelict Chorale – Remixed and Remade

With Chris’s phase of the project as Artist-in-Residence now complete, we are announcing an open call for commissions for other creatives to respond to Chris’s work with a piece of their own. This might be remaking the music your own way, or illustrating it, or something else entirely. From the submitted ideas, we will commission up to four pieces which will be added to the Smart Heritage Map and feature as a contribution to Coastal Currents 2020. They will also appear on social media and this website.

We will provide the source content from Chris in the form of links to the demo songs in Bandcamp, and research materials and lyrics generated during the project by Chris, as well as researcher Julie Gidlow.  

What do we want from you? We are looking for ideas that stretch the boundaries of Chris’s song cycle and bring the works and the story of the America Ground into contemporary relevance. The ideas could take any form – visual art, spoken word, performance, AR/VR or some other digital form. 

Each commission will be worth up to £1,200. Artists commissioned will not be expected to make a final work, just to develop their idea to an initial point where it can be shown as a concept. However, we would expect artists responding with ideas to look at the viability of the work they are proposing – that is, it will be capable of being delivered at a later date.

A short list of ‘musts’:

  • We’d love your first response to the call-out to be ideas and not fully-realised work. Think about it as an ‘elevator pitch’.
  • They must be original ideas – or we’ll be in trouble over copyright!
  • They must be ideas for a response either to the works created by Chris Thorpe-Tracey or the other materials accessible on this web page.
  • Although the idea need not be for a digital project, the proposed piece for the showcase must be capable of being transmitted in digital form (photo, film, other images, sound, code, written text, etc).


  • Call-out 1 July
  • Deadline for responses 22 July
  • Announcement of commissions 27 July
  • Deadline for delivery of works proposals 17 August
  • Showcase, date September tbc (Coastal Currents)

Please note that we cannot provide any further advice at the proposal stage other than that available on our website. We also cannot fund further development of the ideas. We reserve the right to showcase them at MSL’s discretion. Copyright of the proposals remain with the proposer.

If you are interested please complete this form and send it by 22 July: https://forms.gle/JpCpYuPVLdnfLkrX8.

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