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Letters to Planet Slade: 2016

 
Intro, 2017,    |  Archive: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009
Murder Ballads
Secret London
Miscellany

December

October 26, 2016. Stephen Chalmers of Youngstown State University in Ohio, writes:
“Attached are a few sample images from my upcoming Pearl Bryan book. Sorry for the obnoxious watermark (if I’m able to get the book published, I can send out versions without the mark). If you choose to use any of these on your site, please credit me as follows: © Stephen Chalmers, www.askew-view.com.”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for those, Stephen, and good luck with the project. For those not familiar with the Pearl Bryan story, I should add that the cuffs shown are the ones used to arrest Pearl’s killer, Scott Jackson in 1896 and the bag is the one he used to transport her severed head away from the murder scene.

[Stephen first contacted PlanetSlade in May this year. Scroll down to see his earlier letter.]

*****

November 6, 2016. Gary Smith of Ontario in Canada writes:
“Great site! I stumbled onto it last night while doing some research on the song Pretty Polly. I'm learning the version by The Byrds on the guitar at the moment. Nice picking, although it sounds like it was meant to be played as a reel on the fiddle originally.
“Speaking of playing the melody on the fiddle, you should check out the version by The Sadies. It's on the 1998 album Precious Moments. Really fantastic - they are an excellent live band. Should you decide to give it a listen, then please also listen to the preceding song Cowhand, which is also a murder ballad. It features a lovely and drunk-sounding Neko Case on vocals.
“It's been a while since I've seen The Sadies live but I have fond memories of them. They never disappointed us. Precious Moments is one of their early and less-polished recordings and is quite raw at times. Their more recent records have matured in song-writing and production, but they still rock.
“I'm planning on purchasing your book on murder ballads this week from Amazon. I can't wait to get it! I'll be using it as inspiration for my own version of Pretty Polly that I'm coming up with on the guitar. My playing has been curtailed a little this week due to stabbing myself in the middle finger of my fretting hand while making chili. .... Life's rough sometimes.”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for getting in touch - glad you liked the piece. When my book arrives, you’ll find some additional thoughts there about Pretty Polly from The Handsome Family’s Rennie Sparks, who I interviewed last year.
“Thanks also for tipping me off about that Sadies version of the song. I hadn’t come across it before, but I’ve tracked it down on YouTube now, and you’re right: it’s very good. The fiddle sets it apart a bit musically, and there’s one or two unusual bits in the lyrics they use as well. I’ve now ordered a copy of Precious Moments from Amazon, so I’ll have the studio version soon.
“I mostly know the Sadies from various Bloodshot Records compilations, as I’m a huge fan of that label. As far as murder ballads go, I particularly like their version of  Little Sadie (aka Cocaine Blues), which appears on a Bloodshot comp called Making Singles Drinking Doubles. In remixing the song for a single release, they added a little extra twang to the guitar, which never goes amiss in my view. I’ve never seen them live, but in the right venue with a couple of beers inside you, I bet they’re great.

November 17, 2016. Gary Smith adds:
“Just wanted to let you know that I received your book from Amazon today. Nicely put together and I can't wait to read it. I'm halfway through Memoirs of a Geisha, then your book is next. I love Laura Cantrell! Did you meet her?”

Paul Slade replies: Sure did. I interviewed Laura over a pot of camomile tea in a midtown New York hotel, where I was staying for a few days prior to my final research trip down to North Carolina. She was lovely - very knowledgable on the history of women in country music and absolutely charming to boot.
I first heard Laura’s music way back in 2000 when the great British radio DJ John Peel started playing it on his show. He liked her debut CD, Not The Trembling Kind, so much that he pronounced it his favourite record of the past ten years and confessed he’d bought extra copies of it for his home stereo and his car. Laura went on to do a couple of 2003 sessions for Peel’s show, which are well worth checking out: May / December.
The Christmas programme there is a real favourite of mine, particularly for the moment when Laura duets with the Scottish band Ballboy on their song I Lost You (But I Found Country Music). It’s one of those impromptu moments only a great live radio show can provide.

*****

November 7, 2016. Martin Elliott, author of The Rolling Stones Complete Recording Sessions 1962-2012, writes:
“Thank you for your Knebworth 1976 review and Moshpit Memories diary. We seem to have shared quite a bit. The same Great Music Festival concert (Bad Company), the same concerts in Plymouth (The Clash). I lived in Tavistock so concert-going was a bit more difficult, but I moved to Bristol in 1978.
“Your review of Knebworth was so well put and much more than I remember. I went there with a friend who had a bad case of dysentery and spent the concert in the St John Ambulance tent so I was alone but in the masses in front of the trees on the right. I noticed the walkways and went down far stage right so I could catch a closer look at Jagger. That was the second time I saw them - the first being one at Earl's Court. Since then, I've added quite a few more.
“Anyway cheers for the memories which I will dig into again - Eddie & The Hot Rods. AC/DC at Woods...”


Paul Slade replies: Thanks for that, Martin. I don’t envy your mate finding himself at Knebworth that year with a runny bottom. He certainly wasn’t alone, though. Newspapers on the day after the festival reported that, of all the problems ambulance attendants had been faced with, “upset stomachs” were by far the most common – 86 sufferers requiring treatment in the first two hours alone, according to Associated Press.
For my own part, I took one look at the bogs when we arrived and decided I could probably postpone evacuating any solids till our first stop on the way home. I’ve since discovered that it was only by a last-minute appeal to the British Army that Knebworth’s organisers had managed to get any toilets installed on site at all.
Your Stones book had snuck under my radar till now, but it looks like fascinating, so I’ve just bought a copy from Amazon. I look forward to plunging into it next week.
I didn’t see AC/DC at Woods, as I’ve never much been into them, but it was a great little venue. One of my great regrets from those days is that I missed the Sex Pistols’ August 1977 gig there, which happened just two infuriating months before I arrived in town. It was one of the guerilla gigs they were forced to play as the SPOTS, and I’m still kicking myself for letting that one slip by.
For more memories of West County gig-going in that era, scroll down to Neil Cooper’s letter below. He went to many of the same gigs you and I did and contacted PlanetSlade to share some of his photographs.

“Keith accidentally sliced his playing finger with a razor.”- Martin Elliott on Knebworth 1976.


The concert was promoted by Freddie Bannister, who had a great tradition of organising festivals at Bath and Knebworth, as well as being a well-known 60s entrepreneur who had booked the Stones before. […] In 1976, Led Zeppelin and Queen had originally been approached for the event; the former declined, while the latter accepted. However, the Stones were also deliberating an offer and Mick Jagger finally said the band were prepared to play so Bannister had to tell Queen's manager John Reid that he favoured the Stones over Queen.
Reid felt that the only band Queen would have been bounced for was the Rolling Stones. Instead they used the same tent stage for their own free Hyde Park show on 18 September and the tent extended its life when it was sold in 1978 for £10,000 to the Roskilde festival and has formed the basis of the Orange Stage since.
One condition was placed on the Stones event - that it was not first advertised in the music press. Promotions for the event started with leaflets dropped on Kings Road in central London by a procession of clowns, fire eaters and jugglers during the last weekend in June. At the Wimbledon tennis championships, national TV cameras captured the sight of two clowns invading Centre Court during a men's singles match on Saturday 26 June, carrying placards stating: “Stones at Knebworth’” Mick was sat in the crowd watching Jimmy Connors beat Stan Smith and must have been proud of the stunt. Two topless girls did the same at a televised Sussex county cricket match on the day after and, finally, banners were placed at strategic points overnight in London.
The band rehearsed for the performance at Shepperton Film Studios in London. Their appearance at Knebworth was put in jeopardy the day before when Keith accidentally sliced his playing finger with a razor but he was patched up, even if he did bleed during the performance. The Don Harrison Band (with the rhythm players from Creedence Clearwater Revival), Hot Tuna, Todd Rundgren's Utopia (who got the first perfunctory encore of the day with the Move's Do Ya), Lynyrd Skynyrd (managed by Peter Rudge) and 10cc were the support acts.
Late afternoon, Lynyrd Skynyrd took the stage and introduced to England a set of magical, southern blues boogie. Freebird was one of the most inspired musical performances ever seen on a British rock stage, even if the band did encroach on the protruded tongue part of the stage, reportedly against Mick's express instruction. The crowd, some perched precariously in oak trees, were ecstatic, rebel flags waving furiously. 10cc had a hard job to follow this and there was a two-hour delay (allegedly Keith Richards needed to rest from the day's excess and, in order to delay things, the Stones roadies cut the power cable) before they hit the stage before a by now sour, sun-blistered crowd.”

Extracted from Martin’s book The Rolling Stones Complete Recording Sessions 1962-2012 (Cherry Red, 2012) and reproduced with his permission. © Martin Elliott, 2016.



*****

August

July 18, 2016. Todd Carter of Indiana band The Looking writes:
“Our new album features The Well, a murder ballad based on a real story in my Indiana family history.
“In the video, I play my great-great-grandfather Harvey Brookie, who disappeared in 1894 in Carroll County, Indiana. The story that came down to us is that my great-great grandma Anna Miranda Parse murdered Harvey with the help of the farm hand, George Tinkle. They married a year after Harvey disappeared. They offed Harvey and threw him down a well. George ended up committing suicide in 1945.
“I recently spoke on the phone with a neighbouring farmer in Carroll County who said the FBI called on his grandfather about the cold case in the 1930s.”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks, Todd. I like the song, and your glimpse of Carroll County history got me intrigued enough to do a little research on Harvey, George and Anna myself.
I can’t find any reference to Harvey’s disappearance in Newspapers.com’s archive, but there is plenty of evidence that George was always in trouble with the law. My research uncovered some signs that Anna’s neighbours suspected her and George of fooling around behind Harvey’s back too, as well as a walk-on part for a luckless female dwarf named Grace Herron.
The first mention of George’s name in the newspaper archive dates from February 26, 1895, when he showed up at Indiana’s Logansport courthouse with Anna, hoping to get a marriage licence issued for the pair of them. Anna’s father turned up at the courthouse too, determined to prevent the marriage. He’d travelled from Howard County to Logansport expressly for this purpose, bringing with him a 20-year-old Kokomo woman called Frances Minnick.
The
Logansport Pharos-Tribune carried a story about this next day. It says Anna had “already been married to a man named Brooking [sic], from whom she was divorced”. As I said there’s no suggestion of any foul play in Anna’s separation from Harvey. That doesn’t necessarily mean the murder story’s untrue, of course, as the paper’s coverage might simply reflect whatever lies Anna told to keep herself and George out of jail.
Anna’s father pointed out to the courthouse officials that, two years ago, George had been ordered to pay Frances $300 for getting her pregnant and then abandoning her – but had never coughed up the cash. That sum would be worth a little over $8,000 today. George was detained on these charges and his wedding to Anna postponed. A day or two later, Frances agreed to settle the case for $150 and George’s marriage to Anna was allowed to go through. At this point, his age is given as “about 30”, Anna’s as 27 and they’re living together in Shultztown. Whether or not he ever paid the $150 I don’t know.
The next story appears in the
LP-T of May 15, 1895. This adds a nice little detail in describing the February 26 events: “While she [Frances] was relating her tale of woe, George, who was evidently not suffering any nervous attack from the strange turn in affairs, went out in the hall and took a waltz with his intended and patiently waiting bride.”
The same issue says: “Mrs Tinkle had just secured a divorce from her first husband, Brookie, and when she and Tinkle took up their residence near Sedalia, the neighbours are said to have exhibited their dislike of the couple’s actions by posting White Cap notices upon their premises. At any rate, the Tinkles moved, this time locating upon the old Michael place in Boone township.”
That reference to the White Cap notices is interesting. Robert Wilson’s book
The Eyes of Midnight explains that the White Caps were a gang of vigilante thugs operating in Indiana and Tennessee in the 1880s and 1890s. They dressed a little like members of the Klan, with large white hoods concealing their identities, and often targeted people they believed guilty of infidelity. It was sexual morality rather than race which was this group’s main concern, so white people were no safer from their attacks than anyone else.
“Little interest was invested in whether the allegations were true or the behaviour unlawful,” Wilson writes. “An accusation of infidelity – to one’s mate or to the community’s standards – was enough to earn you a noctural visit from faceless marauders who were prepared to impose their morality.”
A little later, he adds: “Usually, the White Caps, having previously issued a written warning, would converge on a home in the middle of the night. They customarily beat the door open, dragged the offending individual out ino the night, and two or more would hold his or her arms outstretched as their nightclothes were pulled up over their heads from behind. Then the lashes were delivered fiercely by one or more White Caps, most often beating the victim bloody and leaving him or her unconscious, or nearly so, before vanishing into the night, their identities still unknown.”
Presumably that’s the treatment George and Anna feared was in store for them when they saw the White Cap notices left on their Shultztown property – and why they decided on a rapid relocation. Anna’s neighbours apparantly believed she’d been cheating on her husband with George before the divorce went through, and were threatening to attack them. Wilson’s clear the White Caps were just as happy to thrash women as men.
Returning to that May 15
LP-T story, we find that George has been arrested again, this time at the Boone township house on May 14, 1895. The charge was once again “bastardy”, that is leaving a pregnant woman behind him with no intention of supporting her or the child. In this case, the wronged woman was Grace Herron, who came from Cutler. She wa just over three feet tall, and about five months pregnant when this story appeared.
“The girl is a sadly deformed and crippled dwarf,” the paper reports, “and her physician says she can hardly live through the period of maternity. She is but 19 years old. Tinkle’s wife is reported to have cried last night, when her husband was arrested, ‘O, George, how many more are there?’ But George said never a word.
“He was lodged in jail here last night and, in Squire Laing’s court this morning, was placed under $700 bond, in default of which he returned to jail.”
There’s another reference in this story to Anna having “secured a divorce from her husband, Tinkle’s forner employer”. Anna’s full name before wedding George is given here as “Annie M. Brookie, ne Parse”, so we’re definitely talking about the right three individuals.
Four months later, Grace died in childbirth at her home in Cutler. “She was operated upon Friday for Caesarian section, and the shock proved fatal,” the
LP-T’s September 2 edition reports. “Her babe, a girl, is reported to be alive and doing well.”
That’s the last reference to George I was able to find until April 14, 1930, when the
LP-T reports he’s been arrested on charges of breaking the liquor laws and carrying a concealed weapon. Prohibition was them in force, so my guess is he was involved in some kind of bootlegging operation. Robert Posey, the owner of a local soft drink parlour, was arrested in the same raid, which suggests George had been supplying the parlour with illicit hooch.
In August the same year, the
LP-T tells us he’s been sent to the state penal farm for 160 days because he “failed to make payment of fines and costs issued against him in City court several weeks ago”. Whether those fines related to the bootlegging charges or not, I don’t know. When he arrived at the penal farm, George was 63 years old, which means he must have been nearly 80 by the time of the suicide you mention.

July 19, Todd Carter adds:
“Thanks for all of this. I was cracking up last night as I discovered some of the press clippings that you sent me.
“I grew up in Carmel, Indiana but my dad is from Cutler - he grew up there on the family farm that is still run by my uncle Jeff. I live in NYC right now, but love getting back there and am going back to spend some time on the farm in a couple of weeks. My uncle says he thinks he knows where this well is located. I definitely will be poking around with him.
“The folklore-ish story that my grandmother Leona (Anna's grand-daughter) told us is as follows. She had been standing in the Gettingsville cemetery, where Anna is buried, looking at Anna's gravestone sometime around 1950, when a man came up from behind her and pointed to Anna's grave stone and said: ‘That woman is the devil. She and Tinkle threw Harvey down the well.’
“It’s a story that grandmother would tell at the kitchen table as she cackled and made noodles to put on top of our mashed potatoes. The story was not only known to our huge family (Leona had 14 kids), but to neighbours as well. As a matter of fact, as soon as I published the video on the web, I got a call from Jeff Fellows, who owns the neighboring farm, and he said he had heard this story his whole life and couldn't believe that I had brought it to life.
“He also said that the FBI came to visit his grandfather in the 1930s looking for clues about the disappearance of Harvey Brookie. As the song says, he was walking his hogs to the market when he disappeared. I made up the part of the song about the bat and Harvey being bludgeoned when I was trying to figure out how they would have accomplished the murder.
“Attached are photos of documents from a history of the Brookie family where I got most of the information and inspiration for the song*. I’m very surprised not to find anything about the disappearance of Harvey in any of the newspapers. I wonder if I am missing something? Let me keep thinking about the whole matter and I’ll see if anything else surfaces.”

[ * The photographs Todd sent me show some extracts from John Anderson’s history of the Brookie family. “About 1 May 1894, ‘Harvey R. Brookie left home to take some hogs to market and was never seen or heard from again’,” Anderson writes. “It is not known which town he was headed for to sell the hogs. His disappearance was strange because he had lived in the area for several years and was well known locally, and thus generated speculation and gossip as to whether he had come in harm’s way, or abandoned his family. Anna Brookie was pregnant at this time and expecting their 4th child in August.” Anderson sources this information to “a family story […] told to your author by Kenneth Ham as he heard it from his mother, Alta Brookie Ham, who was also a family historian. Harvey was Alta’s uncle.”]

*****

July 22, 2016. A Louisiana Hell note collector writes:
“While wandering through the internet, I found your Hell Money article on Planetslade, which I much enjoyed.
“I have been a Hell banknote collector for a number of years. I have over 2,500 different notes at this point. I regularly exchange them with a German friend who travels extensively in the Far East. Like you, I have also hit the shops in San Francisco, New York and London. I’ve also had some Asian friends send me notes.
“One of the thrills of collecting Hell banknotes is finding an oldie. They are amazingly hard to come by because most of them were burned. Older notes often look a lot like Chinese money of the same era. Nowadays, Hell notes can be found in many different currencies, including Russian roubles, Thai bahts, Malaysian ringgits, British pounds and European euros. Also, while many notes do have the portrait of the King of the Underworld, some notes have Buddha or other important oriental allegorical figures.
“There actually is a catalogue of sorts for Hell banknotes. The dean of collecting these is a paper money dealer in Germany named Erwin Beyer. He prepared a three-volume illustrated catalogue in 2005, which documented about 2,600 different designs. There have been many notes issued since then but I am not certain whether he has yet updated the catalogue. My guess is that maybe 1,000 or more designs have appeared since 2005. I know that he can also make up a lot of a couple of thousand notes for you at a reasonable price if you want to get into it that deeply.”

Paul Slade replies: Wow. 2,600 Hell banknotes – or maybe even 3,600! I had no idea that many different designs existed, let alone that so many still survived for collectors to get their hands on.
Many, many thanks for all the scans you sent me showing unusual notes from your collection. I’ve created a new PlanetSlade page here to let people see them for themselves. The vertical notes are particularly interesting, as are the euro and pounds sterling examples. Some, like the note pictured above, were clearly based on the real national currency of their day.


[The writer of this letter gave me his full name and address, but asked me not to identify him online. His unusual job makes security a concern, so I’m happy to comply with this request.]

*****

May 15, 2016. Mike Johnson of Nantes in France writes on the 1618 ballad The Unnatural Murder:
“I was brought up in Penryn in Cornwall, living in a cottage just off St Thomas Street from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, when I was in my teens. Just across the way lived Annie, an old lady who was a great talker.
“Annie had ben raised as the daughter of a coastguard on Manacle Point. She was ten years old when the SS Mohegan was wrecked there in 1898, and vividly remembered ‘all those fine ladies, dressed in silks and decked with jewels. They carried them up and laid them in a row, all drowned’. That would put her in her eighties when she told me the following ghost story.
“For some reason, a house called Round Ring just to the North of St Gluvias Church came into the conversation. The house was a mid C19th double-fronted, two storey building that for all I know still stands. ‘Oh, that is a very bad place,’ she said.
“Many years ago, a little boy lived in St Thomas’ Street with his elder sister and his parents. Being ten years of age, he was found a position on a local ship on a voyage to the Indies, returning some four years later, well provided with gold and spice. He went straight to his former home, but found only his sister there because his father and mother now lived at Round Ring.
“His sister did not recognise him at first, as he was now both coloured and dressed like a Moor. When she knew it was him, he showed her his treasure, they embraced, and he departed to find his father and mother before night fall, planning to play a joke on them.
“Next morning, his sister went to see her parents, enquiring if a "a Moorish boy” seeking lodging had past that way. Mother said yes indeed - being well-provided he had paid in gold for his lodgings and returned to his ship. Knowing this not to be possible the sister, said: ‘And did you not know your own son?’ They had murdered their own child for his gold not knowing it was he.
“Finding no recent account of any murder there, and the house plainly being not that old (built on the site of the 1600s building?) I dismissed the above account - until I chanced on your site and found a considerable element of truth. It’s just that it apparantly happened some 400 years earlier than the old lady believed.”

May 16. Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for that Mike – it’s always good to hear a genuine folklore account of these old tales to supplement their printed accounts. In this case, all the versions we have – including Annie’s tale – are remarkably consistent.
As I explain in my article about the case, reports of this murder began with a 17th Century pamphlet confirming it happened in Penryn in September 1618. Cornish historians investigating the story in 1824 pin-pointed the house to a spot about half a mile north of St Gluvias church, and George Lillo’s 1736 dramatisation, The Fatal Curisoity, gives us this description of the boy’s appearance from his friend Eustace: “Methinks you look more like a sun-burnt Indian than a Briton”.
The events described are identical in every version too, and play out just as you describe. There’s probably a degree of circular feedback here, with the folklore informing the ballad, which influences the play, which then feeds back into the folklore again, but the important thing is that the core facts are always the same.

*****

June 19, 2016. Fred Smith of Canberra, Australia writes:
Hello, mate. I was thinking of you last night watching a Canadian songwriter named Jon Brooks play. He's a courageous and interesting artist who has recently released an album of his own murder ballads call The Smiling and Beautiful Countryside.
“How’s your book going? I've just sent back the first page proofs of mine which is a huge relief.”

Paul Slade replies: I’ve got that Jon Brooks CD, and very good it is too. I think I first heard him on one of fRoots’ monthly music podcasts. I’ve never seen Brooks live, but I’d certainly like to.
I did see Steve Earle play here in London earlier in the week, and he mentioned an Israeli songwriter called Dave Broza, whose first English-language album he’d just finished producing. Struggling for a way to describe Broza’s work, Earle said “ He’s me and a bag of chips”, which I take to mean “Steve Earle but even more so”. I was intrigued enough to buy Broza’s album, though I haven’t listened to it yet. Glancing at the lyrics on his website, it looks like he’s working in a broadly similar area to yourself, so you might like to check him out too.
I’m feeling quite chuffed regarding
fRoots at the moment. A piece I wrote about an unknown Canadian blues guy called Uncle Sinner appeared in the July issue, and has started to generate him a little bit of airplay here. So far, it’s only crumbs (the fRoots podcast again and a London blues show called Balling The Jack), but it’s a start. Uncle Sinner deserves to be much wider heard, so if my article helps that happen at all I’ll be very pleased. Listen for yourself here.
My book’s out now, as you know, and it’s had some very good reviews. Sales so far haven’t quite matched my (probably quite unrealistic) expectations, but if I have to settle for being critically acclaimed rather than a best seller, then so be it. I’m very proud of the book itself, and that’s far and away the most important thing.
Glad to hear you’ve got the proofs stage with your own book. Still plenty to do, of course - not least the job of promoting it, which seems to fall almost entirely on the author himself these days - but at least the finish line is in sight now. I’ve got the idea in my head that the book is a memoir of your time in various war zones, but I’m not sure if that’s something you’ve actually told me or something I’ve dreamed up for myself?


Fred Smith adds:
“Just listening to Paul Broza now. Really good. Seems a gentler soul than Earle, and than Uncle Sinner - that's some dirty dark blues. I see Uncle Sinner's from Winnipeg, Manitoba, an unredeemed place if ever there was one. Freezing in the winter, mosquitoes for the six weeks of summer they get. Great music comes from Manitoba though, they know what they’re doing there.
“'Critically acclaimed' - I feel your pain. I've been critically acclaimed for as long as I can remember. As you say though, it's better than sucking completely. One can only do work one is proud of and leave the rest to the gods.
“I'm resting up from the writing of the book and steeling myself now for the promotional trail while finalising the book - pictures, acknowledgements, corrections. I’m a little confused about what difference is going to be between promoting a book and a CD. Considering whether to play gigs or to do readings and wear a black skivvy *.
“The book is called The Dust of Uruzgan. Each chapter deals with a song from the album and it basically tells the story of my time in Uruzgan province, with some broader observations woven in about the situation in Afghanistan, including some reflections on the British experience in Helmand. Will send you a copy for sure.
“Do see Jon Brooks if he gets to London. He is stage-smart, spontaneous and altogether intriguing.”

[ * As a baffled pom, I had to look up what a black skivvy was. Turns out it’s Aussie slang for the sombre black polo-neck sweater favoured by architects and distinguished authors.]

*****

May 13, 2016. Stephen Chalmers of Youngstown State University in Ohio writes:
“I read your piece about Pearl Bryan with great interest, as did my wife, who is a musicologist and has some research interest in the topic of murder ballads.
“I have a question about one of your sources - the personal (unpublished) memoir by Dr Robert Carothers. Could you tell me where you came across that memoir? I would be very interested in reading the entire piece.
“I’m a photography professor, and as such am approaching the subject matter primarily photographically. For example, after overlaying an 1890 map of Greencastle onto a contemporary satellite photo, I located the site where her family home was, and photographed the trees there now.
“I then worked with a detectorist (a guy with a metal detector) to find carriage springs and nails and such from where the house stood and photographed those as well. I’ve also been photographing historical ephemera, newspaper articles, and the contemporary locations associated with her life, death and the trial.
“Thank you in advance for your help in tracking down the memoir, and best regards.”

[Stephen is working on a book and exhibition showing his Pearl Bryan photographs. Keep an eye on his website for more details.]

May 14, 2016. Paul Slade replies: The only copy of Dr Carothers' memoir I can now find in my Pearl Bryan files is a typewritten transcript, which I think was photocopied and given to me by one of the staff at Campbell County Museum in Kentucky. They have a small collection of Pearl Bryan material there, which may include Dr Carothers’ original document. I’m sorry that’s all a bit vague, but the trip was a long time ago and my memory of it is now rather hazy.
“Your other option would be to find a copy of
The Cincinnati Post’s May 2, 1956 edition. This issue includes an article headlined “Old Notes Bare Details of Pearl Bryan Slaying”which reproduces some long extracts from Carothers’ memoir. He’d just died at that point, and the document was discovered among his effects.
I’ve just had a look on Newspapers.com to see if they might have that particular issue, but I’m afraid they don’t. I did stumble across an interesting clipping about the case which I’d never seen before, though. Published in the
Fort Wayne Sentinel of July 7, 1913, it records that a petty fraudster just arrested in Los Angeles was claiming he’d killed eight people in Ohio – including Pearl Bryan.
This guy’s name was Simon Helfinstine and he’d been arrested for passing a bad cheque. It’s pretty clear from the paper’s coverage that he was crazy, and that his belief that he’d killed Pearl – or anyone at all, for that matter - was pure fantasy.
“The circumstances of the crime as related by Helfinstine do not coincide with known facts, and county officials were inclined to believe the prisoner was suffering from insanity,” the
Sentinel reports. “Helfinstine asserts that he murdered the girl in Toledo and then shipped the body to Jackson and Walling in Cincinnati.”
This confirms not only that Pearl’s case was making waves as far afield as California, but also that it was famous enough to spark false confessions from people who evidently enjoyed imagining themselves in the murderer’s role. This is a phenomenon which goes back at least as far as London’s Jack The Ripper killings of 1888, and is discussed in
From Hell, Alan Moore’s 1989 graphic novel about those murders.
“Scotland Yard received dozens, perhaps hundreds of letters purporting to come from the killer and rendered in a variety of handwriting styles,” Moore writes. “The fact that one man was killing and disembowelling prostitutes at this time almost pales into insignificance beside the fact that lots of ostensibly normal men throughout the country were fantasising about doing the very same thing.” Pearl’s murder clearly had the same effect on Helfinstine – and on who knows how many other people too?

*****

May

Funny how a random e-mail can lead to such unexpected consequences. Take, for example, the April 2 letter I received from Florida musician Fred Burns, the man behind 2011’s excellent answer song Pretty Polly’s Revenge.
Fred was writing to send me a link to The Dixie Chicks’ video for their song Goodbye Earl, which tells the story of Wanda and Mary Ann teaming up to kill Wanda’s abusive husband by poisoning his food. The chain of events this link sent spinning into action culminated ten days later with the Colchester folk singer Philip Lyons scoring 2,000 Soundcloud plays in just 48 hours with a set of murder ballad lyrics I’d just written about the Helen Titchener case.
For those who don’t know, Helen is a character in the long-running BBC radio soap opera The Archers. By the time Fred’s Dixie Chicks link arrived in my inbox, Helen’s manipulative husband Rob had been steadily undermining her independence for well over a year. Mary Ann’s equivalent in The Archers was Helen’s loyal friend Kirsty, who was urging her to leave Rob before something terrible happened. So far, though, Helen was refusing to listen, and her plight had become a hot topic among Britain’s chattering classes.
I’d never heard The Dixie Chicks’ song before, but I loved it immediately. “That track is absolutely terrific,” I told Fred. “I love the gleeful humour in it, which is just the right note to strike in a murder ballad about someone as scummy as Earl.”
Helen and Rob were still together at that point, but there was a definite sense that The Archers’ writers were edging their story towards some sort of climax. I had no idea what that climax might be, but the parallels with The Dixie Chicks song were close enough for me to tweet out a link to their video with a jokey comparison. “This is how Helen from #The Archers needs to deal with Rob,” I wrote.
And then next day – the very next day – Helen snapped at last and stabbed Rob in the chest with a kitchen knife. “As things stand right now, it looks as if he’s dead,” I told Fred. “The only thing that could have made the timing any weirder would be if she’d poisoned him instead.” I think that was the moment I began thinking about Helen’s story as fodder for a murder ballad. And I wasn’t the only one, as this tweet repurposing a line from Tom Jones’ Delilah made clear:

Fast forward now to the evening of Sunday April 10, when I found myself slumped on the sofa with nothing better to do that knock out some ballad verses telling Helen’s story to date. I polished these up a bit next morning, then posted the full lyrics on Twitter with this appeal:

This produced vastly more response than anything I’d ever done before on Twitter, so I sat back to enjoy the flurry of activity. The nost notable response came from The Archers’ programme office:

The Archers’ Twitter account has 44,000 followers, so when it also retweeted my lyrics that kicked everything up another notch. Keri Davies, one of the show’s scriptwriters, retweeted them too. “Particularly liked ‘guessed it’ / ‘cesspit’,” he said.
I’d used Frankie & Johnny as a template for writing the lyrics, but soon I was receiving all sorts of suggestions for other tunes my verses would fit. Janet Proudman suggested My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, Sheila Deayton recommended Beethoven’s Ode To Joy and Mudcat’s Banjo Ray opted for The Sexual life of a Camel. Vivienne Rhodes put forward The Smiths’ Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (certainly a more appropriate choice for Helen than the Beethoven) and Lynne Gee expressed shock and regret that I hadn’t simply set my verses to The Archers’ own theme tune. Perhaps the most bizarre response of the lot was this one:

This was all very entertaining, but what I really wanted was someone to set the ballad to their own tune, perform it as a finished song and post a recording online for me to hear. At about five o’clock that evening – just seven hours after I’d first posted the lyrics online – that’s exactly what happened:

I clicked the link and there was Philip Lyons’ performance of the finished ballad, accompanied by his own guitar backing. Links to that Soundcloud page spread even faster than the original lyrics had done, and by midnight next day it had racked up over 2,000 plays. None of that would have happened without Fred’s letter planting the idea of a Helen Titchener murder ballad in my head. He was the Florida butterfly whose unsuspecting wing-flap caused this minor hurricane in far-away England, and what an enjoyable litle storm it was.

Fred Burns’ Pick of Murder Ballads on YouTube.
Fred’s sent me quite a few links to murder ballads videos over the past few months. Here’s a list of his recommendations:

The Kruger Brothers: Down In The Willow Garden
The Dixie Chicks: Goodbye Earl
Doc Watson: Omie Wise
The Bottom Dollar Boys: Little Sadie
Stanley Brothers: Little Glass of Wine (“This one’s particularly psycho,” says Fred.)
Stanley Brothers: The Drunken Driver
Gillian Welch & David Rawlings: Caleb Miller
Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue: Where The Wild Roses Grow
Sam Bush: The Ballad of Stringbean & Estelle
Louvin Brothers: Katie Dear
Norman & Nancy Blake: Billy Gray
*****

March 7, 2016. Neil Cooper of Kingsbridge in Devon writes:
“Just came across your site when looking for where I saw and photographed Ian Dury in Plymouth 1978. Here's a pic of Ian at the Fiesta that night which you're welcome to use. I have several more from the same gig including one where he's got a pair of panties on his head.
“I went to loads of gigs at this time across the south-west. At that time, I taught photography at Dartington College of Art. I was the 'responsible' member of staff who drove students to gigs in the college Transit. Spent many a frustrating hour searching for student bodies to load into the van at the end of night in the back streets of Plymouth, Exeter and even Bristol.
The pics were mostly taken just for me but I had a friend who used to write the Up Front article in (I believe) the Observer. He couldn't drive so I took him to gigs and got permission from the bands to take pics. We'd meet them after in their hotel and he'd do a short interview. The Tubes were the most interesting after-gig band. They took over the top floor of a Bristol hotel and we partied big time. Lots of scantily-clad backing girls and a huge entourage of weirdos. Us white punks certainly were on dope!
“I saw The Police the same week as their first gig on The Old Grey Whistle Test, I think at the Metro. Sadly I didn't take any pics - they'd be worth some dosh now! I'm currently scanning a load of old negatives and will let you know if I find anything more of interest. Great site!”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for that Neil. It’s always nice to hear from someone who shares my happy memories of West Country gig-going back in the seventies. If you do come across any other concert pics from that hugely-enjoyable era, I’d certainly love to see them.
I should think your charges led you quite a merry chase once they’d got a few drinks inside them back in those days. Most of the Plymouth venues were on Union Street, weren’t they? Lots of opportunities for naïve young students to get themselves in trouble down there!
I’ve just been checking out the India and Africa pics on your website, and you’ve got some really gorgeous stuff there. I particularly like the Malian lad in the canoe, the fisherman praying at his home shrine and that shot of the Dalai Lama with his peacock umbrella.

*****
Message board round-up


The source threads for our latest collection of PlanetSlade blurbs can be found below. Sometimes there’s quite an interesting discussion attached.

Gerhard Art
http://gerhardart.com/pauls-planetslade-grand-reveal/#comments

A Medium Corporation
https://medium.com/a-longing-look/he-wore-rat-drawn-shoes-and-an-old-stetson-hat-1882d002c513#.ipz2f7pb8

Metafilter
http://projects.metafilter.com/4929/New-Gerhard-art-The-Murder-Ballet

A Moment of Cerebus
http://www.momentofcerebus.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/gerhards-murder-ballet.html

Mudcat
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=159701

*****

February

January 15, 2015. Dave Arthur of London writes:
“Thanks so much for the Stackolee recordings - such a variety of genres and some great lyrics. I particularly like the jazz and rap versions. Normally, I perform Stackolee with my band Rattle on the Stovepipe. Banjo, fiddle, guitar - it's quite a kick-ass version. When we get round to recording it I'll send it to you for your collection.
“Thanks also for the talk last night. It was very interesting and showed some impressive research. Congratulations, too, on the discovery of the earliest version of Poor Ellen Smith. That must have been such a buzz when you realised what you'd found. There's something hugely satisfying in that sort of discovery, isn't there? Unfortunately I find that research and tracking things up musical or folkloric cul-de-sacs can become an end in itself if I'm not careful. You can so easily follow so many tributaries off the main stream, each one fascinating and leading you further and further away from your initial line of exploration.
“Suddenly, another week, month, year, has gone by and you are inundated with research material, but still haven't finished the article, review or book! I was impressed that you got so much done and produced such a fact-packed, informative and entertaining book in such a relatively short time. I'd still have been working on it in 2018!”

Paul Slade replies: I’m really pleased you enjoyed yourself the other night, Dave. I know you only pulled out the banjo because you’d damaged your guitar on the Tube, but I think that was a lucky chance in a way, because I loved the banjo version - you can really pick that thing!
I thought Nigel/George’s number was great too. He caught Mississippi John Hurt’s intricate guitar patterns and the mournful tone of his
Stagger Lee really well. It was a great evening, made all the more so by the fact that quite a few of those attending bought a copy of my book before they left.
I remember hearing a historical novelist speaking on the radio a few years ago, and she said the hardest moment she found in writing all her novels was tearing herself away from the research stage and forcing herself to sit down and begin writing. The truth is that most writers – me included - will do almost anything to postpone the dreadful moment when we have to sit down at the keyboard.

January 22, 2016. Mike Bodner (aka Uncle Sinner) writes:
“Just a note to say I finished the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had never heard of the Lawson family massacre - what a terrible story. I definitely agree that Hollis Brown is a related song, with the setting changed to South Dakota.
“The best version of Pretty Polly I ever heard was a live performance by Greg Brown circa 2004 or 2005. His naturally deep voice makes his version more menacing than any other version I've heard. I have a bootleg CD with it included, but it's not as good as the one I saw. I think he mostly follows the Dock Boggs lyrics.
“I had known the song long before I saw Greg Brown play it, but there was something in his performance that day that made me want to sing it too (and to sing it in a relatively low key). I am proud of my small addition of the word ‘hunting’ in hunting knife, conjuring as it does a sense of predatory intent.
“Dirk Powell also did an interesting version of Pretty Polly. I talked to him about it when I was in North Carolina in 1997. He said he felt he needed to add some verses to make Willy pay a bit more (he was unaware of versions in which Polly's ghost gets her revenge). In particular, there are nice verses in Powell's Polly where Willy can't find any peace (a la Stacker Lee being haunted by Billy Lyons' ghost in the jail):

Willy, he travelled to far distant lands,
Willy, he travelled to far distant lands,
And the farther he travelled, the faster he ran,

And all that he saw was the face of his love,
All that he saw was the face of his love,
And all that he heard was the cry of the dove.

“So, any idea whether the song Omie Wise stems from an actual incident?”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for the kind words, Mike. I love Greg Brown’s stuff. He’s got that incredibly sweet, gentle side to his song-writing in numbers like Canned Goods, but brings a real sense of threat to his various murder ballads covers too. It’s a shame he’s never officially recorded Pretty Polly, because I really want to hear him sing it myself now.
On then other hand, there’s something nice about the transitory nature of a great live performance which you just happen to be lucky enough to catch. Either you were there on the night or you missed it forever, and that’s part of what makes the memory so special. Try as you may to convey how great the experience was to others, they’ll never quite get it - because they weren’t there.
All I really know about
Omie Wise is that it’s another North Carolina ballad from Knoxville Girl’s large family of "dead girl in the river” songs and that - yes - it does seem to be based on a real murder. I’ve never researched the song myself, but I see Murder By Gaslight has tackled it here.
I’ve just looked up the
Omie Wise's lyrics to refresh my memory, and I like the matter-of-fact brutality of this couplet from Doc Watson’s version:

Little Omie, little Omie, I'll tell you my mind.
My mind is to drown you and leave you behind.

You can see the kinship with Knoxville Girl there as well, can’t you? Quite a few of Watson’s Omie Wise verses could lift right out and be slotted into Knoxville Girl without changing a syllable. I like those Dirk Powell lyrics too. There’s quite a few versions which have the doves left behind as Polly’s only mourners when Willy walks away from her grave, but this the first time I’ve seen them used to haunt his conscience.
It’s just a weird tangent, but Powell’s addition reminds me of a detail from the original folktale of
Cinderella which the Grimms collected in the early 1800s. In this version, Cinderella’s two cruel step-sisters attend her wedding, entering the church side by side. The two little birds who have befriended Cinderella are waiting by the door, one on either side, and as the sisters enter, they peck out each sister’s nearest eye - the right eye for the sister on the right and the left eye for the sister on the left.
They have the ceremony and all the guests prepare to file out, the cruel sisters once again side-by-side. This time, because they’ve turned around and are walking in the other direction, they each have their one remaining eye towards the door’s nearest edge. And the two little birds are still waiting…

February 6, 2016. Jack Beard of New Hampshire’s WUNH writes:
“I’m just starting your book, Unprepared To Die. I host a folk music show at the University of New Hampshire and am guessing your book might inspire a program. If I have listeners who don’t like the show I’ll blame you, OK?
“I’d like to check out some rap versions of Stagger Lee. Can you recommend any? I seem to recall one from the mid-80s, but for the life of me can’t seem to find it. I assume you know the record Rounder put out titled Get Your Ass In The Water And Swim Like Me. It’s an LP of toasts with a version of Stack-O-Lee on it. I mention it just in case you haven’t heard it.’

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for getting in touch, Jack. I’ll happily accept the blame for any listener rebellion my book may generate in return for it getting a namecheck or two as your programme proceeds. Send any complainants my way and I’ll give them a good talking too.
The only rap version of
Stagger Lee I can point you towards is the 2007 version recorded by Billy’s Band on their album Чужие. It’s very much based on Nick Cave’s version, but with the added interest that Billy’s Band are a Russian outfit, and so bring an angle to the song we’ve not heard before. As for the mid-80s one you’re trying to think of, have a scan of David Hirsch’s list of the song’s 400+ recordings. Something there might just jog your memory.
I hadn’t come across
GYAITW&SLM before, so I’m grateful for the tip there. I’ve just bought the download version from iTunes and I’m looking forward to getting to grips with the full album next week. The Stack-O-Lee it contains strikes me as being is kind of an oral storyteller’s version. The words are similar to those heard in other toast versions, but delivered more as an ongoing tale than a line-by-line poem. Quite a bit ruder than many other versions when it comes to our hero’s sexual prowess too.

February 10, 2016. Fin O’Súilleabháin of Penrith in Cumbria writes:
“Hi, Paul. I trust the weather is fine on Planet Slade today.
“I’ve been enjoying your informative pages on 1890s blues ballads in connection with a modest little e-book I'm writing. I wonder if you can find time to answer a quick question about the Frankie & Albert/Johnny songs - no worries if not.
“Not having access to the sheet music or other sources I remain a little fogged about the musical history of the song. My question is very simple. I think of there really being two songs: the poppy Frankie & Johnny that everyone in the fifties and sixties recorded, and the John Hurt masterpiece of 1928.
“What I don't get is how these relate - melodically I mean - to Bill Dooley's original tune and the published versions? Did the first published version of 1904 follow the original? Am I right in guessing the pop tune is the Leighton/Shields thing from 1912? Was that distinctive ‘Frankie-and-JOH-nny’ start to the tune always there or is it a 1912 invention? And how does MJH's Frankie fit in - is that basically his own composition or does it perhaps relate to the original as it was before Tin Pan Alley took a hand?
“I note David Evans's assertion in Big Road Blues that MJH's 1928 record ‘is probably typical of the way [the song] was performed around 1910 and earlier’ - which to me implies that this was a version of the original piece and what Johnny Cash et al are singing is a sort of re-write maybe dating from 1912. You may not know, of course - these things can be darned obscure, and I guess the ballad history itself is your main thing anyway. But I thought I'd ask.
“More power to your elbow. The site is really great and now I've found it I'll be having a damn good look around.”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for your letter, Fin. I think you may have set the record for most questions per paragraph on any PlanetSlade page!
Unfortunately, I don’t think I can answer any of them. The problem is that I don’t play any musical instrument, I can’t read music and I don’t have the vocabulary to discuss music in even the most basic technical terms. That means I’m far less able to trace the musical development of a song than I can its lyrics. Couple that with the fact that many early versions of these songs survive as printed words alone and it becomes even more difficult. One thing we can say is that early versions very often use a ballad form in composing their words, but that tells us only so much about the music those words were set to.
It also strikes me that there’s a tricky point of definition here. At what point does a tweaked version of a traditional song cease to be merely a variation on it and cross the line into becoming a full rewrite? That’s not the sort of binary question that can produce a single correct answer, but one which has to rely on each listener’s individual judgement instead.
If I had to a draw a line between the two categories you propose – let’s call them “blues Frankie” and “pop Frankie” – I’d guess I’d choose 1956 as the year to do it. That’s when Sammy Davis Jr recorded the song for MGM’s musical
Meet Me In Las Vegas. My guess is that’s the rendition which introduced the song to a mass audience and gave someone the idea it might have chart potential. Pop Frankie then established itself via recordings by Johnny Cash (1958), Sam Cooke (1963) and Elvis Presley (1966). By 1990, that strand had run its course, and new musicians coming to the song began looking to the original Blues Frankie for their inspiration instead. All that’s got more to do with the song’s cultural history than the sort of musical analysis you’re after, though.
If you do a Google Images search using the twin terms “frankie & johnny” + “sheet music”, quite a few examples of the song’s early sheet music will pop up. Combining a study of these with your own educated listening to the song’s many online recordings – which go right back to the 1920s – may be enough to clarify the relationships you’re interested in.
Finally, I’d like to invite any PlanetSlade readers with the musical background I lack to weigh in here. If you can help answer any of Fin’s questions, I’ll gladly pass your comments on.


*****
Message board round-up


The source threads for our latest collection of PlanetSlade blurbs can be found below. Sometimes there’s quite an interesting discussion attached.

Metafilter
http://projects.metafilter.com/4861/Killer-Songs-radio-doc-Billy-Bragg-Dave-Alvin-Laura-Cantrell-others-discuss-their-favourite-murder-ballads

Mudcat
http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=158941


Perhaps you’d care to inspect my testimonials?

On Frankie & Johnny
“Never did I think there was so much information on Frankie Baker and Allen Britt. Thank you!” – Gloria, Krolak, Jersey Jazz, via e-mail.

On Treasure Hunt Riots
“Super interesting.” – Bennett, Twitter.

[I was] fascinated.” – Matthew Harrison, Twitter.

On Masquerade
“The article on your website is fantastic.” – Chris Tritscler, via e-mail.

On Andy Capp
“It is absolutely fascinating!” – Rob Baker, via e-mail.

***

On Stagger Lee
“This article is brilliant.” – James Caig, A Medium Corporation.

On Gerhard’s Art
“This is amazing!” – Theta States, Metafilter

“Truly wonderful. It looks superb on the PlanetSlade site too.” – Derek Gray, Gerhard Art.

“That’s an amazing drawing.” – Tony Dunlop, A Moment of Cerebus.

On The Ballad of Helen Titchener
“Absolutely brilliant. BBC Folk Awards nomination?” – Alison, Twitter.

“Excellent rendition. Made me smile.” – John Lodge, Soundcloud.

“Good job.” – David Blake, Twitter.

“Bravo.” – Dum Tee Dum, Twitter.

“Brilliant.” – Andy Horn, Twitter.

“I love it.” – The Other Sarah, Twitter.

“This needs to go viral.” – MsE-Mentor, Twitter.

“Deeply touching.” – Dymvue, Twitter.

“This is brilliant.” - Amy Gilbert, Twitter.

“Excellent work! I can hear Jolene singing it now.” – Karin, Twitter.

“Genius offering.”- Lynne Gee, Twitter.

“This is bloody brilliant.” – Steve Shaw, Mudcat.

“Good summary in song.” – Clare Page, Twitter.

“Excellent!” – Gwynneth Thelfall, Twitter.

“Brilliant! Both tune and lyrics!” – Liz Cencetti, Twitter.

“Great.” – Cheeky M, Twitter.

“Superb.” – Ard Work, Twitter.

“Love it.” – Fatea, Twitter.

“This is brilliant.” Angela, Twitter.

***

On Knoxville Girl
‘I’m gonna be obsessed.” – Kerri Lou, Twitter.

On Pretty Polly
“Detailed history.” – Virginia King, Twitter.

On Unprepared to Die
“First class work. The man knows his murder ballads.” – Joe Offer, Mudcat.

Well worth a read. Fascinating.” – Natural Stone Specialist, Twitter.

“Interesting.” – Bonnie Shaljean, Mudcat.

“A good looking book. […] Really interesting and well-written.” – Bob Shane, The Kingston Trio, via e-mail.

On Killer Songs “This is fantastic. Thank you!” – rtha, Metafilter.

“I was suckled on the Child ballads, so this is wonderful.” – Jesse the K, Metafilter.

“Completely incredible idea!” – Miko, Metafilter.

On Andy Capp
“A thorough history.” – Jasmine, Twitter.

***

On Stagger Lee
“Buenisimo.” – Rhubarb Vaselino, Twitter.

“An outstanding article.” – Lighter, Mudcat.

On Knoxville Girl
“In depth article.” – Tittybingo, Twitter.

On U2D Bonus
“Fascinating stuff, Paul! Love your work.” – Michael R, Mudcat.

“Cool stuff.” – Ipecucci, Mojo.

“Terrific discussion.” – J, Twitter.

“Excellent.” – Barry O’Brien, via e-mail.

“This is marvellous, thank you!” – Mrrzy, Mudcat.

“A solid contribution.” – Gargoyle, Mudcat.

On Treasure Hunt Riots
“A fabulous footnote to history.” – Fiona Turnbull, Twitter.

On Spotify Playlists
“A stonking good list. People - check this.” – m4mac, Twitter, on November 2015’s selection.

“Glad I checked.” – John Donnelly, Twitter.

***

On PlanetSlade
“Very interesting and cool stuff.” – Jerry Lankford, The Record, via e-mail.

On Murder Ballads
“Lots of interesting stuff.” – Northern Displayers, Twitter.

On Knoxville Girl
“A fascinating account of research into the ballad.” – American Folklife Centre, Facebook.

On Pearl Bryan
“Slade is a fantastic writer. […] The book is rich with authentic details.” – Sine Anahita, Amazon.com.

On Treasure Hunt Riots
“A golden nugget in its own right.” – Matt Brown, The Londonist.

On Borough Mystery
‘I liked this.” – Alex Vitlin, Twitter.

On Necropolis Railway
“Fascinating.” – WORG, Twitter.

A fascinating piece of railway history.” – JourneyDevon, Twitter.

On Black Swan Blues
“Very worthwhile reading.” – Jostber, Blindman’s Blues Forum.

“Excellent.” – Bluesrearcher, Blindman’s Blues Forum.

“Great reading.” – Kinghendrix, Blindman’s Blues Forum.

On Andy Capp
“Great work.” – Jim Nelson, j-nelson.net.

On Moshpit Memories
“Cool piece.”- PunK-and-StuFF, Twitter.

“Fuckin’ great. Love it!” – Usedtabef’n’b, Mojo.

“This is awesome.”- ChuraChura, Metafilter.

“Nice start to 2015.” – Punxvillan, Twitter.

“Top read.” – Fingerprince, Mojo.

“Fan-freaking-tastic.” – El Brendano, Metafilter.

“This is great stuff.” – Diarmid Mogg, via Twitter.

“Really enjoyed it.” – Peter Jervis, Salford City Radio, via Twitter.

On Mother’s Day
“Conveys the facts and adds an edgy anthropogenic emotional horror to make a compelling story.” – Professor Jonathan Neal, Living With Insects.