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. 
Audio: http://tindeck.com/listen/gqqv.
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 .

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The London folk singer Pete Morton dropped round with his guitar this morning to record Jealous Annie at my kitchen table. He's used the original 1848 lyrics, set to his own music, and I can confirm that the resulting track is another good 'un.

I'll get the minidisc transferred to CD on Monday, and have the free audio up on line next week. In the meantime, check out some of Pete's other songs here: http://www.petemorton.com/.

We'd still love to hear your version of Jealous Annie too, Cowboy Slim. There's already two versions of Mrs Dyer up there, and the chance to compare and contrast different approaches just adds ann extra dimension to both.

We have some more fresh Gallows Ballads audio:

Death of William Palmer, by Big Al Whittle.

Audio: http://www.myspace.com/566916480

Music: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-palmer.html

And yet more fresh audio:

The Westmill Murder, by Ernest Johnson.

The true tale of a nine-year-old boy who brutally murdered his infant sister back in 1848. It's said that he left the little girl's corpse in such a mangled state that their mother was driven mad at the very sight of it.

Audio: http://soundcloud.com/ernie1949/the-westmill-murder

Background: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-murder-at-westmill.html

I have some amended links for the two latest tracks. Apologies for the confusion earlier. 

Death of William Palmer, by Big Al Whittle 
This track's got a Soundcloud page now, as well as the MySpace one mentioned above, and that's allowed us to add a free download option for anyone who wants to collect the tracks in that form. 

Audio: http://soundcloud.com/planetslade/death-of-william-palmer-by-big 
Background: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-palmer.html 

The Westmill Murder, by Ernest Johnson 
Still on Soundcloud - albeit a different page from the original one - and now also with an added free download option. 

Audio: http://soundcloud.com/ernie1949/the-westmill-murder-1 
Background: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-murder-at-westmill.html

The Gallows Ballads Project

The PlanetSlade page above is now updated with links to all ten of our free, downloadable recordings so far. 

The current state of play is this: 

Now On-line 
Elsa Lanchester: Mrs Dyer. 
Hammond School: Gallows Child. 
Tim Radford: The Old Baby Farmer. 
Sean Breadin (Sedayne): The Silent Grove. 
Rob Wahl: Streams of Crimson Blood. 
Foxen: The Unnatural Murder. 
KingBrilliant: The Foreigner's Downfall. 
Pete Morton: Jealous Annie. 
Big Al Whittle: Life & Trial of Palmer. 
Ernest Johnson: Murder at Westmill. 

Promised Soon 
Simeon Peebler: Mary Arnold. 
The Jetsonics: Cruel Lizzy Vickers. 
Irene Shettle: The Sister & The Serpent. 
Elisa Flynn: The Murdered Maid. 
Cowboy Slim: Jealous Annie. 

Unclaimed So Far 
The Execution of Nataniel Mobbs. 
The Liverpool Lodger. 
Jones & Harwood.

Hey Paul,

  I just came across this today, and would love to participate.  We were thinking of "The Execution of Nataniel Mobbs"...OK?



Dear George,

I've just been having a glance at your website and I think you guys would fit in perfectly. South County look like a lot of fun, so I hope I get the chance to see you live one day.

I'm very keen to get a few full-band treatments in there and extend the range of styles a bit. We've had some very good tracks from solo UK folk artists, but that genre has tended to dominate the project a bit so far, and some variety would be welcome.

You can contact me here: paul(at)planetslade.com, so please just drop me a line if I can do anything to help. I'll mark down Nathaniel Mobbs as your track, and await the results with interest! 


More fresh audio:


The Sister & The Serpent, by Mary Humphreys. Mary Reeder, 20, fatally poisons her sister Susan for love of Susan's husband Elias. The guilty lovers are later hanged in Cambridge. A true story of C19th English murder.

Audio: http://soundcloud.com/planetslade/the-sister-the-serpent-by-mary

Background: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-sister-and-serpent.html


The 1850 ballad sheet containing these lyrics suggest they be sung to an old air called The Waggon Train, which Mary unearthed from a 1944 field recording. That's the tune she uses for her performance here, and finding it was an excellent bit of detective work on her part.

I've forwarded this to Glasgow band The Dirt.

Hopefully they are interested and can bring something to the project.

"THE DIRT are a Glasgow-based threesome drawn from the punk country well that spawned Johnny Cash, The Violent Femmes, Green on Red and Uncle Tupelo. They sing of feral children, broken guitars, dead dogs, dark rivers and aching love." - GlasgowWestEnd.

Thanks, Mainy. Based on the description above, I'd say The Dirt would be perfect.

I may have to go and find that CD of theirs too...

Now that the Summer break's over, we're back with some more new audio.

The Liverpool Lodger on Soundcloud. Music and performance by Gerry Jones.
Audio: http://soundcloud.com/planetslade/the-liverpool-lodger-by-gerry
Background: http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-the-liverpool-lodger.html

Many thanks to Gerry for his singing, accordion playing and composition. He was also kind enough to send me the sheet music for his setting of the song and a few thoughts on his approach to tackling this demo, and all that will be up on PlanetSlade soon.

Elsewhere in the forest, The Jetsonics report that they've now completed work on Cruel Lizzie Vickers, and plan to add it to their live set in October. "We've been through about 4 versions of Lizzie and now we're very happy with it," the band's Adam Donovan tells me. "We're trying to sort out a way to record it a bit better than the 'plonk a digital recorder in the middle of the rehearsal room' way without going the full (expensive) studio route for you soon."

Meanwhile, Rick Marsland, an old mate of mine, has sent me the trial mix for his punk-folk performance of Jones & Harwood, which he's polishing up at the moment. We'll have audio for that soon, too.

And there's news from across the Atlantic. Simeon Peebler is currently in a Chicago studio working on an album, and contacted me recently to say he'll try and find some time to record Mary Arnold at the same sessions. South County, a rockabilly/country/blues band based in Westchester, is cracking on with The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs. The band's George Gierer tweeted me this morning to say: "I think I had a breakthrough tonite", and I've no doubt more news will follow.

To sum up, then, that's 11 of the 16 songs already up on-line as free audio (one of them in two different versions), four in various stages of work-in-progress and two still waiting for someone to adopt them.

Audio on-line
Mrs Dyer - Elsa Lanchester
Gallows Child - The Hammond School
The Silent Grove - Sedayne
The Old Baby Farmer - Tim Radford
Streams of Crimson Blood - Rob Wahl
The Unnatural Murder - Foxen
The Foreigner's Downfall - KingBrilliant
Jealous Annie - Pete Morton
Death of William Palmer - Big Al Whittle
The Westmill Murder - Ernest Johnson
The Sister & The Serpent - Mary Humphreys
The Liverpool Lodger - Gerry Jones

Work in progress
Cruel Lizzie Vickers - The Jetsonics
Jones & Harwood - Rick Marsland
Mary Arnold - Simeon Peebler
The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs - South County

Awaiting adoption
The Unnatural Murder
The Murdered Maid

You'll find links to all the audio so far here (http://www.planetslade.com/planetslade-music02.html), links to all the original ballad sheets' lyrics here (http://www.planetslade.com/broadside-ballads-songs.html) and details of how to join the project on both those pages. Don't be shy!



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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.