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Letters to Planet Slade: 2022

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

December: Shirley Jackson’s lullaby

September brought a letter to PlanetSlade from Sarah Hyman DeWitt, the younger daughter of celebrated horror writer Shirley Jackson.
Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House became a hit Netflix series in 2018, complete with a scene using The Grattan Murders, a gory old murder ballad which we’ve discussed before. Jackson would sometimes sing this ballad as a lullaby when putting her four young children to bed, and it’s clearly an experience Sarah has never forgotten.
“I know my mother’s version of The Grattan Murders well,” she writes. “She sang it in a rather odd, Cockney-like accent: “'E crep' up close be'ind 'im”, “Until her stee-rength gave way” and “'E stove 'im in the short-ribs, until that chee-ild was dead.”
I expect she learned it from her father, Leslie Jackson, who was an English immigrant to America, with a large collection of English music hall songs. I find it odd that the song seems to have made it to England, and yet is so rare in America. I have never heard anyone except members of my family sing any version of it. My sister and I sang it on a BBC ‘alphabet of horror’ series, and I would be happy to sing it for you.
“As Sadie Damascus, I am a nonprofessional singer of Child ballads and other bad old songs, and am known in a number of folk music societies' online gatherings. I lectured on the Child Ballads for about five years on a local community radio station. I am so glad to discover your website.”
I was delighted to receive this letter, not only because I’ve always loved the lullaby story – which Sarah confirms is true, by the way - but also because I could now imagine Jackson’s rendition in precisely the style she sang it. Sarah and I arranged a Zoom call so she could perform the song for me in her mother’s style, which she’s kindly allowed me to post on YouTube here.
It’s interesting to discover that Jackson may have first come across the song through her husband’s interest in English music hall. When ballad sheets fell away around 1850, the same style of street songs they’d offered sometimes found a new home on the music hall stage. Mrs Dyer, the Old Baby Farmer is a good example of this, and The Grattan Murders may well be another.
The fact that the song isn’t better known is baffling. It’s just the sort of gory True Crime ballad that folk and bluegrass singers normally find irresistible, and yet almost no-one seems to have recorded it. You’d have thought the Netflix Hill House adaption alone would have prompted a cover or two, but if so I’ve been unable to find them. Maybe someone reading this will be prompted to give it a try?


November 1, 2022. Buck Morgan of Indiana writes:
“With respect to your Wratten Family Murders page: I am not sure of the distance from Washington, but Glendale is south of the county seat not east. Maybe a little to the east but much more to the south. [That aside], I thought your the article was well thought out and well written.
“I’m attaching a link to our local newspaper archives [Indiana’s Valley Advance] concerning the Wratten murders and Bud Stone. As one of those two letters to the editor confirms, Bud Stone was buried right over the fence from Ebenezer Cemetery on property that belonged to his father. The 1888 map shows this parcel to be north of Ebenezer cemetery, and that's what the guy who mowed the cemetery told me too.”

Paul Slade replies: “Thanks for pointing out my compass error. You’re quite right, of course, and I’ll amend the copy accordingly when I get the chance. Google maps confirms the distance as 9.3 miles along IN-257 - though it would be slightly shorter if taken as the crow flies. Either way, I’m going to stick with “about nine miles” on that one.
I’m grateful for your link to those clippings too, particularly the story they contain about the startled neighbour who found Stone levelling a gun at him from a hiding place in the corn. “He said he had been hunting rabbits, but the neighbour always felt he had intended to shoot him,” it continues. “[Stone] later began acting so odd even his wife became afraid of him and finally turned him in.”


August 26, 2022. Chris Woodyard, author of the Haunted Ohio series of books writes:
“I ran across an article called Funeral Ballads of the Kentucky Mountains by Marie Campbell, a folklorist who collected songs and folklore in the Letcher County, Kentucky area in the 1920s-1930s. Nearly all of the ‘funeral ballads’ she mentions seem to have been commercially produced hymns or songs that had previously appeared in print, but which Miss Campbell says she took down from memory at funeral gatherings.
“In your experience, is it a common occurrence for a folklorist to mistake a commercial song for a traditional ballad? Or do songs with a recognized author/composer sometimes just make the transition into traditional ballad territory?
“I'm a little uncertain as to how she was defining ballad. She had a tendency to see survivals where we might see none, particularly in her story collecting. As a musician myself, I tend to draw a sharp line between commercial and traditional music (a line that may not exist in the world of folklore) and I wanted to get your thoughts.
“Campbell also wrote companion articles on Feuding Ballads of the Kentucky Mountains and Liquor Ballads of the Kentucky Mountains which I haven't been able to access. They're in 1938 and 1939 issues of Southern Folklore Quarterly respectively. If you've run across these articles, I'd be fascinated to hear what you'd have to say about them.”

Paul Slade replies: Hi, Chris – nice to hear from you again.
I’d never come across Marie Campbell or her work before, though I have now read the funeral ballads piece you mention. I’m going to try to track down the feuding ballads and the liquor ballads articles you mention too, as both these subjects sound right up my street.
My own view on the boundary between folk music and commercial music is that it’s a very permeable one. Rather than thinking of two distinct boxes and allocating songs neatly to one or the other, I envisage it as a Venn diagram, with a large cross-over area in the middle occupied by songs that are a bit of both.
Knoxville Girl for example: based on a real murder of 1683, the first version we have of the song is a 1685 English ballad sheet called The Bloody Miller. (Whether that was based on a earlier folklore versification of the tale or not we don’t know.) The BM ballad sheet was written, printed and sold for profit and spawned many printed variations produced and sold for the same reason. These cross the Atlantic, have their place names swapped for American ones and inspire both commercial ballad sheets and orally circulated folk versions of their own, with each variant telling the story in its own distinct way.
It’s easy to imagine any given singer drawing on whatever lines and verses he likes best from the song’s many versions, neither knowing nor caring where each line originated. It’s only when Arthur Tanner and his Cornshuckers select one of these competing versions for their 1927 recording of the song that all these influences crystallise into a single set of lyrics which pretty much everyone has agreed on ever since.
Bearing all that in mind, do we categorise
Knoxville Girl as a folk song or a commercial one? The only sensible answer, I think, is that it’s a mixture of the two: a hybrid which lives in that central section of my Venn diagram.
Another example worth thinking about is
Poor Ellen Smith, which records an 1892 murder in North Carolina. There are two parallel songs about Ellen, both of which we’d all assumed were traditional ballads until I managed to track one of them down in an 1893 newspaper which had commissioned a set of verses from the murderer’s cellmate, Charles Pepper. Almost all the imagery and phraseology found in either version of Poor Ellen Smith today can be traced back to Pepper’s single-author, written-for-pay, version. Does that disqualify it as a folk song? Does it re-qualify when people begin mixing and matching the song’s two rival versions for their own unique take? Again, I think these are questions with no clear answer. Songs step back and forth across the folk/commercial boundary all the time, often not even noticing it’s there.
I’ve written a good deal about British gallows ballads in the past few years. These were ballad sheets, produced by jobbing hacks and sold as souvenirs at public hangings. It was very much a gutter trade - ballad sellers worked the crowd alongside pickpockets and prostitutes - and yet the people who wrote these verses earned money from it and the best of them even got a by-line. Ballad sheets printed only the words, the tunes being taken either from popular hymns or folk ballads everyone would know. Should we think of these songs as part of folk music or part of commercial music? I’m really not sure.
Even the word “ballad” is a slippery one. Strictly speaking, it refers to a distinct poetic form with rules of metre and rhyme as firm as any limerick’s. But it’s also used more widely to mean any song that tells a story, or simply the one slow, smoochy song a band inserts in its set to show they have a sensitive side. Some of the songs Campbell quotes in her funeral ballads piece follow the ballad’s structural rules, but others do not. I get the impression she’s using the word pretty loosely, perhaps meaning no more than “song”.
There’s more on all of this in my murder ballads book and elsewhere on PlanetSlade itself. I’d be fascinated to hear more about how you go about drawing your own line between traditional and commercial music, the ambiguities you’ve found there and how you resolve them.

Chris Woodyard adds:
“This is absolutely fantastic and so helpful! I realize, on reading your commentary on the nature of the word ‘ballad’ that one question bothering me about the funeral ballads is that they’re not, for the most part, really story-telling songs - although some include dialog and the usual warnings to the young not to stray from the righteous path. There is very little in the way of a story-telling ‘arc’, but a lot of conventional phrases and cliches found in hymns.
“Your analysis of Knoxville Girl and Poor Ellen Smith is really illuminating about the overlap of commercial and folk music. That analysis makes me recognize that it’s really the notion of passing off composers' hymns as folk ballads that makes Campbell’s article distasteful to me. It seems a bit like plagiarism, although that's not an exact analogy. Inacurate claims, in any case.
“Fortunately, I do not often have to draw the line between traditional and commercial music. I tend to have a rather rigid, Swiss Lutheran attitude, which is simplistic and assuredly not correct: if some folklorist took down a ballad or song from an aged person in the Irish/Cornish/Scottish countryside, it's traditional. If a song was first published in a newspaper or sheet-music or hymnal format, it's commercial. You've clearly laid out the overlap and it is making my Swiss Lutheran mind reel!
Your gallows ballads example is spot on - the difficulty of how to classify ‘folk-ish’ popular songs that clearly harken back to an oral, supposedly spontaneous tradition. I'll be very interested to see (if you can find the articles) what you think of the liquor and feuding ballads. There's a Dayton gallows ballad that I'm trying to find in my files. I'll send it along when I find it, although you may know it already.


August 12, 2022. Sam Cameron writes: “I am a wee bit baffled about your remarks on the Byrds’ version of Pretty Polly. It was not on the original Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP, but appeared only as a bonus track on some of that album’s CD reissues. What I find puzzling is your claim that the track is ‘full’ of the band’s trademark chiming guitars. Pretty Polly does have the electric 12 string on it but that seems to be just playing along with a set of acoustic instruments as an accompaniment. That is it is not ‘full’ of chiming guitars.”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for your letter. It’s a fair cop - I did write that the band included Pretty Polly on Sweetheart of The Rodeo’s original 1968 release, and that’s simply not true. I’m grateful to you for pointing out the error, which I’ve now been able to correct.
On the question of the chiming guitars, what I was trying to convey was that this aspect of the Byrds’ sound is very prominent on the track - something which, having just listened to it again now, I’m happy to stand by. I wasn’t thinking of the actual number of guitars, electric or otherwise, but aiming in a very few words to give people a quick sense of what the track sounds like. The wording I chose clearly didn’t work for you, but I think most readers will understand it in the more figurative sense I intended.


October 29. Lora Hyler writes:
“You and I corresponded last year and you were very helpful regarding my questions about Harry Pace and Black Swan Records. I'm hoping you can answer another question now.
“Do you know anything about the Tenot family from France? They may have once recorded black American artists in France, and certainly have a large album collection. I know because I was an artist in residence in a small village there in 2017, and saw the collection. I now have a friend working on a documentary, and he is very interested in seeing it too.
“Do you know who may own the collection now? I believe the Tenot family used to live and work in Marnay sur Seine.”

Paul Slade replies: I’m afraid this is all news to me, though if any PlanetSlade readers turn out to know about it I’ll certainly pass the information on.
My only thought is that you might want to investigate a long-running BBC radio series called
Black Music in Europe: A Hidden History, which covers the subject from 1910 to the present day. I’ve only dipped in and out of it, so I don’t know if they mention the Tenot family or not, but it would certainly be worth you or your friend contacting the programmes’ producer. You can probably find some of the episodes online too.
Finally, please do let me know when your friend’s documentary comes out - you’ve got me quite curious about the Tenots now!.


July: Esther Woolf Jacobson

Nathan Woolf Jacobson was a semi-criminal pawnbroker and property developer in Victorian London who went to war with a Methodist graveyard in the city’s Tottenham Court Road. I wrote about their colourful battle in PlanetSlade’s Whitefield’s Soul Trap essay, and now that piece has produced a letter from Jacobson’s great-great grandson.
Writing from his home in New South Wales, Chris Venn-Brown explains that Esther Woolf Jacobson, one of Nathan’s six children, was his great grandmother. We last met Esther in 1871, when she was living in the Jacobson family’s London home with her five siblings. It was those siblings who’d later launch an epic lawsuit to wrest the proceeds of Nathan’s will from his much younger widow Annie.
Venn-Brown takes up the story: “At some time, while still very young in England, Esther met a boy named Richard Brown, who was about four years older than her. He was not Jewish. […] Richard sailed to Sydney in the mid 1870s. There he obtained a job in the retail industry, we believe selling carpets, and became financially pretty secure.
“Esther sailed unaccompanied to Sydney in 1878 at the age of 19 or 20. She and Richard married almost immediately and went on to have 13 children (one of whom was my grandfather) […] In the 1890s, the family moved to a house on the north side of Sydney Harbour. [….] Richard unfortunately died in 1904. Esther did not re-marry, and continued to live in the house till her death.
“It is in this house that I visited Esther with my parents in the late 1940s and early 1950s. […] Unfortunately, as a small boy I did not know all the right questions to ask her. Even if I had known them, I doubt I would have been brave enough to ask. She was always nice enough to me, but she was still a pretty forbidding old lady.
“Until recently, I knew absolutely nothing about her family. It is only in the last few years that we have learnt anything at all (other than a few tantalising snippets of family folklore). Your article has helped to fill in many gaps in our knowledge. The evidence that Nathan was a bit of a scoundrel (to put mildly) makes it all the more interesting that Esther and her many children all turned out to be law-abiding citizens.

‘I believe her share of the Whitefield’s Tabernacle settlement set Esther up for life.’

“Richard’s early death could have left Esther with financial difficulties if she wanted to maintain the house. However, I believe that soon after Richard’s death, she received her proportion of the settlement in the Whitefield’s Tabernacle case and this set her up for the rest of her life. I never heard any suggestion that she was not financially secure.” That theory tallies well with the information we have on the case itself. Launched in 1881, it was not finally resolved until 1905, the year after Richard Brown’s death.
“One other issue concerning Esther,” Venn-Brown continues. “From the moment she disembarked in Sydney in 1878, she suppressed (or straight out denied) that she had any Jewish heritage. It seems to me that her motive for moving to Sydney was partly so that she could marry a non-Jew without any fuss, and partly to avoid the necessity of ‘being Jewish’. It is even possible that Richard initiated the idea of travelling to somewhere remote so they could marry without opposition.
“While our family was generally aware of Esther’s maiden name, Woolf Jacobson, and suggestions that this was a Jewish name, the fact that she showed no hint of being Jewish seemed to discount this possibility. However, a few years ago, I had a DNA analysis done, which showed that I am 17% ethnically Jewish. […] This is despite Esther once saying that her mother was not Jewish and that, therefore, she was not Jewish either.”
This is all strikingly reminiscent of another family story I’ve covered here on PlanetSlade – that of the African-American record pioneer Harry Pace. My book Black Swan Blues and the Radiolab podcast series it spawned explain how Pace’s children passed for white, telling their own kids that the family’s heritage was Italian. It wasn’t until 60 years after Harry’s death that his daughter Josephine finally felt able to acknowledge the truth. Esther’s story seems to echo with that, and I’m very grateful to Chris for passing it on.


June 8, 2022. Michael Greengard writes: “Something like 35 years ago, my sister taught me a song called Stagolee. I arranged it as a duet and we have been singing and performing it ever since as amateurs. About 15 years ago, we made some recordings. I then thought of something that never occurred to me before, namely: where did this song come from?
“My sister didn't remember where she got it from all those years ago. Well, I thought, that's no problem in this day and age, and sat down with my trusty PC and Google search engine. I immediately discovered that there wasn't "a" Stagolee song - there were dozens and hundreds of Stagolee songs - all of which were based on the same real people and a real incident. But I couldn't find the song we knew.
“I discovered that Cecil Brown had written an entire book about Stagolee songs (Stagolee Shot Billy - Harvard University Press, no less). My computer-savvy brother found Cecil Brown's email address for me, so I wrote him a message, attached our recording, and waited for his reply. He wrote me back thanking me for my message and recording, and saying that he would make sure to add it to the next edition of his book. Back to square one.
“Then my sister's husband did a search of their old vinyl records albums, and found the song on an album by the Rooftop Singers from 1963 - sure enough, it was there. There was, however, no composer listed on the record - it was credited to "traditional," but permit me to doubt this - to me, it sounds like a composed song.
“I discovered that Bill Svanoe, one of the Rooftop Singers, was living in North Carolina. My brother found his email address, and I sent him the same message & mp3 that I’d sent to Cecil Brown. He answered that he had heard the song somewhere and arranged it (he actually sings it solo on the record), but didn't remember where or from whom he had heard it.
“So that's where it stands. Do you have any ideas about how I can found out where this song comes from? I would be much obliged.”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for getting in touch and sending me that excellent Rooftop Singers version of Stagolee. I’d never heard it before, so I’m very glad to add it to my collection. It’s clearly drawn from the song’s New Orleans strand, but I can’t offhand think of another version that ropes Saint Peter into the story. I like your family version too, so if you ever put that one online please let me know so I can share the link with PlanetSlade’s readers.
You prompted me to do a bit of research on the Rooftop Singers, who I’ve now learned formed in the early 1960s specifically to cover Gus Cannon’s 1930 hit
Walk Right In, which scored them a Top Ten hit on both sides of the Atlantic. That was by far their biggest hit, but it gave them enough momentum to keep working till 1967, when they split.
Getting back to
Stagolee, everything I know about the song (along with seven other murder ballads) can be found in my book Unprepared to Die. There’s a shorter version of the same Stagolee essay here on PlanetSlade itself. I’d recommend having a scan through the site’s letters pages too, as you’ll find the occasional reader contribution there with an added nugget of info about the song.
I wouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking
Stagger Lee must be entirely a folk song or entirely a professionally composed one. The answer is almost certainly that it’s both and that many versions step casually back and forth across these two categories. It’s easy to imagine an accomplished songwriter hearing a rough-ass folk version and subsequently polishing it up or expanding it for his own use, for example. Many pro songwriters have simply taken the Stagger Lee “plot” and written their own song from scratch around that story.


April 5, 2022. Christina Roberts of Cornwall writes: “I bought a copy of Masquerade from Bolenowe Animal Sancuary’s charity shop in Helston and found some 1982 newspaper cuttings about the hunt inside. ([Kit Williams’ former girlfriend] Veronica Roberts wanted the prize funds to support animal rights and we share the same surname. Spooky!)
“Masquerade is one of those mythical events that will keep coming around. The story behind it all is fascinating. If it wasn’t true, nobody would believe it! How amazing that you found yourself a signed copy. Your heart must have been racing. Something to cherish.
“I love your site, by the way, though I only found it the other day. Your reporting on the background to the hunt is wonderful in its detail. You might like to know that the missing footage of Dugald Thompson/Ken Thomas can be found from 9:37 in this Omnibus episode from 1982.
“I’m very much enjoying reading about the history of treasure hunts on your website. Thanks for creating it.”

Paul Slade replies:You’re very welcome, Christina, and thanks for taking the time to photograph the clippings and send me copies. I’ve included a couple of extracts from them here so PlanetSlade readers can enjoy them too.


March: Prince McCoy

A big PlanetSlade thank you goes to Lisa O’Donnell, the North Carolina journalist who I met while researching murder ballads in Winston-Salem a few years ago. She’d just been reading my new book, Black Swan Blues, and had some fresh information to add.
“Here’s a very cool connection,” she writes. “You pulled a quote from WC Handy’s book, where he writes about silver dollars raining down on the dance floor at a show in Cleveland, Mississippi.” This was the night around 1900 when Handy’s orchestra found itself blown off stage by a ramshackle local string band, whose music sent the crowd wild where his own had left them distinctly lukewarm. “They had the stuff the people wanted,” Handy writes in his 1944 autobiography. “It touched the spot. Their music wanted polishing, but it contained the essence. Folks would pay money for it.”
Handy doesn’t identify the band he saw that night, saying only it was “a local colored band” comprising guitar, mandolin and bass, led by “a long-legged chocolate boy” – but he does credit the gig as providing a crucial epiphany in his own growing appreciation of the blues. Without that encounter, Handy may never have adopted blues music and taken it to the world as he did.
What I didn’t know until O’Donnell’s letter arrived is that earlier, unpublished drafts of Handy’s manuscript names the string band’s leader as a Delta musician of that era called Prince McCoy. She tells the full story in this 2017 clipping from the Winston-Salem Journal.
“For all his influence on Handy, little is known about McCoy,” O’Donnell writes. “He was born Prince Albert McCoy in Louisiana in 1882 and moved to Greenville, Mississippi, with his mother. At some point, he became a musician, leading an orchestra that played dances, civic functions and even the Alabama-Old Miss football game in 1910. In 1927, he left Mississippi for Winston-Salem and married the former Carrie Young of Chester County, SC. He and Carrie first show up in the city directory in 1934, where he listed his occupation as a musician, living on East Eighth Street.”
Jim O’Neal, a researcher for the Mississippi Blues Trail, discovered that McCoy was part of an eight-piece orchestra travelling with Maxey’s Medical Show to entertain the crowd with vaudeville songs. “This was a big show on the scale of the larger minstrel shows with a fleet of vehicles carrying people around,” he tells O’Donnell. “It was a free show and Maxey would make his money trying to sell tonics to the crowd.” One surviving ad for Maxey’s troupe shows they toured as far north as Boston.
Prompted by O’Donnell’s’s letter, I had a ferret round in the newspaper archives myself and found an August 1920 story from North Carolina’s Forest City Courier saying Maxey’s troupe had just spent a week in city. “They gave good clean performances and sold quite a lot of their preparations,” it reports.
McCoy seems never to have made a record or to have published any of his own compositions. Somewhere around 1943, he gave up his musical career to take a job as a janitor at Winston-Salem’s Bowman Gray School of Medicine, where librarians later discovered the newsletter photo above showing him at the staff’s 1951 Christmas party. He’d “proved his ability as a violinist” at that party, the newsletter adds.
McCoy died in February 1968, aged 85, and was buried at Winston-Salem’s Evergreen Cemetery. The Mississippi Blues Trail gave him his own marker in his childhood home of Greenville in 2017.


March 2, 2022. Michelle Wallace of Boston, Massachusetts writes:
“I found your essay on Pretty Polly and wondered if I could pick your brain about the character of Willie. I have learned some old folk songs on mandolin and started to pick up on a running theme of the name Willie. This name shows up in The Banks of the Ohio as the brutal killer there. Obviously, it’s there in Pretty Polly, and again in Beautiful Brown Eyes.
“My question here is whether it would be possible for these to be all the same Willie? The story arc of killing his true love because she would not marry him (Banks of the Ohio), the chilling premeditated murder (Pretty Polly), and then the result of drinking oneself to death (Beautiful Brown Eyes) feels like a compelling story arc.
“We know Pretty Polly is likely the oldest tune here, but when was Willie first introduced to the lyrical content? The first recordings of both Banks of the Ohio and Pretty Polly seem to be in 1927. Beautiful Brown Eyes comes 10 years later in 1937 as far as I can find out. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for getting in touch. I like the idea of there being a single character behind all these songs, but unfortunately I don’t think it stacks up.
The problem is that Willie (or sometimes William) is a generic name used in dozens, if not hundreds, of old English folk songs no matter whether it has any factual basis or not. Molly plays a similar role as a generic name for female characters. Do a quick search for either of those names in The Full English database and you’ll see what I mean. This tradition was so firmly embedded in ballad writing by the time recorded discs came along that you still find it everywhere in folk music today.
Often, these same two names would feed through to the US adaptions of old English folk songs, which I think explains why so many versions of the songs you mention call their killer Willie. The source song for
Pretty Polly, for example, is an old English ballad sheet called The Gosport Tragedy, which dates back to 1750 or before. The British Library has a printed copy of this ballad sheet which identifies the killer and his victim as William and Molly respectively. But there’s no reason to think either of these names bear any relation to the two real individuals whose bloody encounter inspired the song.
Banks of The Ohio is essentially a variant of Knoxville Girl, which sources back to an old English folk song called The Berkshire Tragedy. A printed version of this song from about 1744 identifies the killer as John (and parish records show he was actually called Francis) but almost every version on Knoxville Girl happily calls him Willie nonetheless. There is one real murderer called William Simmons, whose 1892 crime is sometimes linked to Knoxville Girl, but that’s much too late in the song’s history to be more than a co-incidence. I set all this out much more fully in my murder ballads book.
I don’t think any of this information should prevent you playfully presenting
Polly/Banks/Eyes as a little song cycle which you like to imagine as telling the tale of a single individual. This is folk music, after all, which should always be treated as a living thing and open to constant reinterpretation. Just don’t over-promise in claiming there’s any concrete evidence for the link!


March 16, 2022. Roger Mahoney of The Gambols and (until recently) Andy Capp writes
“Thought you might like a copy of the email I sent to the editor of the Daily Cartoonist in the States yesterday. I’m hoping this clears up the mystery of my disappearance from the Andy Capp cartoon strip. It was a bit of a shock to read that I had retired as I certainly intend to draw cartoons until I drop.

‘Dear Daily Cartoonist,
‘Just for the record, I must tell you I have most definitely NOT retired from cartooning. I was very reluctantly dropped from drawing the
Andy Capp cartoon strip by the UK’s Daily Mirror due to the effect of Covid-19 on the finances of that newspaper. They considered having to pay three cartoonists to produce the strip was too expensive.

‘I am still writing and drawing
The Gambols cartoon strip for The Mail on Sunday in the UK and am currently working on new cartoon projects. Am I retired? No such word in my vocabulary!
‘Very best wishes,
Roger Mahoney.’”

[Mahoney, who’d been drawing the Mirror’s Andy Capp strip from scripts by Lawrence Goldsmith and Sean Garnett since 1999, asked me to run his Daily Cartoonist e-mail as an open letter here to set the record straight. Andy’s strip in the Mirror is now handled by Goldsmith and Garnett alone, with both men scripting and Goldsmith doing the art.
Garnett confirmed for me that it was budget cuts which led to Mahoney’s departure. “We both miss him as his brilliant artwork often rescued a poorer script,” he said. “Lawrence has taken over drawing duties and is doing a sterling job. He has picked up Roger's panache for boosting the scripts with his artwork. Lawrence is also still co-writer and we still produce a new toon a day.”
Goldsmith has a long track record as a cartoon artist in his own right, with strips like Canaryman, The Care Bears and Masters of the Universe to his credit. I’m a harsh critic when it comes to this stuff, but I think he’s captured the Andy Capp strip’s established look well. You can see the Mirror’s latest Andy Capp strips here.]


February 15, 2022. Dan Schreiber of the Show Us Your Shit video podcast writes:
“I messaged a few weeks ago about the Masquerade hare. Hope you’re well.
“I was chatting to the grand-daughter of the owners of the hare the other day, and I just wanted to ask: when you put out that call from Mike Barker out at the end of [the Radio 4 doc], did you think in your wildest dreams that it might actually be heard by the owners? And how did it feel once you found out the family had actually heard it?
“What I find remarkable is that it was only heard by one family member, who was listening to Radio 4 at a time she never usually listens to it, and who didn’t even know what the hare was, but recognised it from the description.”

Paul Slade replies: I guess we must have known Mike's call-out was a long shot when we included it in the programme, but there seemed no harm in trying. It struck a nice note in the continuing mystery of the hare anyway, so we thought it earned its place in the programme on those grounds alone.
My assumption at the time would have been that the hare was probably still in the UK, so there was always a chance the new owner would either hear the programme - or if not that, at least hear about it. The Beeb’s got an amazing reach - far more so than any commercial operator - so it never seemed completely impossible we’d hear something.
It was actually the producer I’d worked with on the Radio 4 programme who first heard about the response, but I can’t remember now if she got a call direct from the hare’s owners or from the producer of the BBC TV documentary about it which was already in the works. I’ve just dug out our e-mail exchange when she passed the news on to me, and I see my first words on hearing about it were “Holy shit!” I imagine her own reaction had been much the same.
It was this initial contact prompted by our humble little wireless programme which allowed the TV people to get the hare sent back to the UK long enough for them to film its reunion with creator Kit Williams and give it a brief exhibit in London. It was more luck than judgement in the end, but I’m just grateful it all worked out.

[Dan’s e-mail followed a Tweet he’d sent me earlier with this video clip showing Kit Williams’ golden hare in close up. It has audio too, which meant it let me hear the tinkling of the hare’s bells for the first time. “I was doing a lockdown show on Instagram where I got interesting people to show me the best stuff they owned, and someone I convinced to come on was the owner of the hare,” Dan explained. “The owners aren’t on screen, so we didn’t get much out of them except a confirmation that it’s in the Far East.”]


March 19, 2021. Larry Benade of Virginia writes:
“Have you seen this? The Baddest Man in Town - The American Scholar.
“Here are links to two murder ballads I participated in recording. You've probably heard of Bradford Bishop, a fugitive [wanted for] murdering his family in suburban Washington DC in the '70s. Here's my bluegrass band Coup de Grass playing the first cut of our 1978 album Rhythm & Bluegrass; Ballad of Bradford Bishop, a song written by friends of a friend. And here's me with a recent video trying to do justice to Doc Watson's version of Tom Dooley.”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks so much for sending a link to that amazing Stagger Lee article. It’s absolutely packed with new information, and so much of it first hand too. Anyone interested in the song should definitely give it a read. I’m grateful for the music links too: I hadn’t heard of Bradford Bishop’s case before but I love the song. “Bradford was never a family man,” has just that touch of witty understatement I always enjoy in a murder ballad. I see he’s still on the FBI’s Most Wanted list too.