I've just posted free audio online for the first two of PlanetSlade's genuine Victorian gallows ballads. I'm hoping these will be just the beginning of a project that eventually brings all 16 of the ballads back to life as fully-performed songs.
These are the songs knocked out by jobbing hacks in London's Seven Dials slum and sold at public hangings while the condemned man was still dangling. Each song comes with full lyrics, plus my own research on the real crime that inspired it. All the lyrics are well over 100 years old. So far, the audio available covers:
Gallows Child: Original lyrics set to the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by The Hammond School's Nicola Andrew, and performed by the cast of the school's Christmas 2011 production of Oliver Twist. It's my own field recording from the show's run last month, made and posted on-line with their permission.
Audio: http://tindeck.com/listen/spbc .
Background: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-gallows-child.html .
Mrs Dyer, the Old Baby Farmer: A 1960 music hall recording by Elsa Lanchester, the actress who played The Bride of Frankenstein, and salvaged here from a long out-of-print vinyl LP.
Background: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-mrs-dyer.html .
If you'd like to help PlanetSlade bring its other 14 Gallows Ballads back to life too, why not set one of the song's public domain lyrics to your own music and record yourself performing it? I'd be delighted to use PlanetSlade as a central list of links to everyone's recordings or - if you prefer - post your track on-line myself. Bedroom musicians, pub performers, folk clubs and global megastars are all welcome to take part.
PlanetSlade Music already has exclusive free tracks from both Pete Morton and The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, so you'd be in excellent company.
Ideally, I'd like to have links to people performing all 16 of our British Broadsides up and running there, but whether I manage that or not is entirely up to you. There's no money in this for anyone - least of all me - but I think it's a worthwhile project nonetheless. If you agree, please help me spread the word. More details here: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-songs.html .
PS) PlanetSlade also has a new Murder Ballads essay up on-line today, covering Pretty Polly and it's 18th Century roots in an English ballad called The Gosport Tragedy. Find it here: http://www.planetslade.com/pretty-polly01.html .
I've just heard from a No Depression reader in Chicago who wants to tackle one of the ballads, so that's a good start for the US contribution. Any other takers?
This sounds so fun. I'd love to participate!
That's great, Elisa - thank you so much. I've just been listening to Close Your Eyes on your MySpace page, and I'd love to hear you tackle one of the Gallows Ballads tracks.
The seven songs which no-one's offered to cover yet are: The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs, The Life & Trial of Palmer, The Liverpool Lodger, Murder at Westmill, The Murdered Maid, Jones & Harwood and The Foreigner's Downfall.
If you've got your heart set on one of the others, that's fine. I've no objection at all to having several different versions of the same song up there - in fact, it's sometimes quite interesting to compare the different approaches. If you want a song all to yourself, though, it might be best to stick to the short list above.
Please let me know when you've chosen one, and I'll add your name to my master list.
Hi Paul, I'm going to take "the Murdered Maid." Add me as a friend and we can discuss in email.
Done that, Flisa. Please drop me a line whenever you're ready.
Meanwhile, we've got some more new audio:
Streams of Crimson Blood, by Rob Wahl. Lyrics from an 1829 ballad sheet about a Portsmouth double murder. Rob's unaccompanied performance brings a nice touch of Victorian melodrama to the tale. Music copyright © 2012 by Robert Wahl. All rights reserved.
No more new audio to report just yet, I’m afraid – although I have received a work-in-progress demo of The Unnatural Murder which John and Margaret Foxen are hoping to finish ready for posting soon.
What I do have is an intriguing bit of trivia. Cassandra Clare is the author of the best-selling teen fiction series The Mortal Instrumemts and its prequel trilogy The Infernal Devices. The books follow the reliable Twilight formula of mixing supernatural creatures with hormone-soaked teen romance, and are shifting by the truckload as a result.
Book two of The Infernal Devices is 2011’s The Clockwork Prince, and it’s set in Victorian London. On page 191, we find this paragraph: “The carriage came to a stop at an unprepossessing corner. Across the street, the lights of an open public house spilled out onto the street, along with a steady stream of drunkards, some with women leaning on their arms, the women’s brightly colored dresses stained and dirty and their cheeks highly rouged. Somewhere someone was singing ‘Cruel Lizzie Vickers’.”
Now, Cruel Lizzie Vickers is a title I bestowed on that particular song, the original sheet being simply headed “Horrid Murder”. I posted my page about it in October 2010, by which time Clare must have been well on her way to completing The Clockwork Prince’s manuscript, but it seems safe to assume from the title she’s used that she found the song on PlanetSlade. I’m impressed she went the extra mile to find a real Victorian song for her characters to overhear at this point, and chuffed to see it score a passing mention in such a popular book.
The Jetsonics have already offered to do a modern cover version of Cruel Lizzie Vickers, and I’m going to drop them a line with news of the Clockwork Prince connection in a moment. All we need now is a time machine written into the plot, and one of Clare’s future volumes could reveal it was them singing it outside that Victorian pub all along.
Cassandra Clare: http://www.cassandraclare.com/cms/home
Cruel Lizzie Vickers: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-cruel-lizzie-vickers.html
The Jetsonics: http://www.thejetsonics.com/
More fresh audio:
The Unnatural Murder, by Foxen. This gory tale of parents killing their own son can be traced all the way back to 1618, and Albert Camus once pinched it as a plot. John Foxen wrote his own music for the original sheet's lyrics with wife Margaret's soprano vocals very much in mind, and adds his own guitar, fiddle and concertina to accompany her.
I went to where I thought you had the lyrics, and found the Ballad of Annie Meyers. Is this not one of the songs you want covered? I can do it or another, if I am mistaken about which songs I should choose from...
email me here: email@example.com
Annie Meyers' tale is certainly one of those on my list, but I'm not sure if we're looking at the same version of the song or not. I call this particular ballad Jealous Annie, and you'll find the full lyrics and the true story behind it here: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-jealous-annie.html.
If you'd like to tackle Jealous Annie, that'd be great. No-one's done that song yet, and I'd love top hear your version. I've just dropped you a line at the address above with a couple more links you might find useful.