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The Tyburn Jig (2018)

Murder Ballads
Secret London

I was sitting around at home minding my own business the other evening when it suddenly occurred to me that the phrases "The Lambeth Walk" and "The Tyburn Jig" are both pronounced with exactly the same rythym and syllabic stress.
Beyond that, the two phrases have little in common. The Lambeth Walk is a showstopping number from Noel Gay's 1937 musical Me & My Girl, featuring lots of jolly cockernees describing their trademark South London dance and its role in local mating rituals.
The Tyburn Jig, on the other hand, is a very old bit of London slang, deriving from the fact that Tyburn, near what's now Marble Arch, was once the site of all the city's public hangings. To do the Tyburn Jig was to dance at the end of a rope, and this phrase persisted in London speech long after the hangings themselves had moved to Newgate Prison. There, as at Tyburn, the spectacle attracted huge crowds, who treated the hangings as a form of public entertainment.
I always like songs which combine dark, sinister lyrics with very sunny music, so I spent the next hour or so composing my own words to The Lambeth Walk's tune. One day, I'd love to hear someone performing the resulting song, perhaps on stage with some appropriately gruesome choreography and an audience singalong. The "Urghh!" at the end, of course, replaces The Lambeth Walk's climactic "Oy!", and comes just as the trap door is released.

The Tyburn Jig
Any time you're Newgate way,
Any evening, any day,
From gaol cell or brig,
We're doing the Tyburn Jig!

For every little Newgate gal,
And her little Newgate pal,
Justice is rigged,
We're doing the Tyburn Jig!

Crowds come along to see us,
Glad that they'll never be us,
They watch us as we dangle,
Cheer as we choke and strangle!

Once you get down Newgate way,
You'll see us 'most every day,
Strung up like pigs,
And doing the Tyburn Jig. Urghh!

Songs menu: A feast of facts and all the lyrics

The menu below lists a few of my favourite ballads from the British Library's collection and elsewhere. Click on any title to find the full lyrics and my account of the case that inspired them. And, if you haven't already read it, do take a look at my background essay describing the London industry which produced these songs.

Part One (April 2010)

Mary Arnold, The Female Monster

The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs

Mrs Dyer, The Old Baby-Farmer

The Gallows Child

Part Two (June 2010)

The Life and Trial of Palmer

The Silent Grove

The Liverpool Lodger

The Unnatural Murder

Part Three (Oct 2010)

Murder at Westmill

Streams of Crimson Blood

The Murdered Maid

Cruel Lizzie Vickers

Part Four (Feb 2011)

Jones and Harwood

The Sister and the Serpent

Jealous Annie

The Foreigner's Downfall

Bonus songs

The Tyburn Jig

Corkery's Farewell

The Gallows Ballads Project: Musicians wanted
If you'd like to help PlanetSlade bring these gallows ballads back to life as fully-performed songs, why not set one of the 16 ballads' public domain lyrics to your own music and record yourself singing and playing it?
   Any music you write would remain your own property, of course, as would the recording itself, and I'll make sure that all writers and performers are fully credited.
   There's no money in this for anyone - least of all me - but I think it's a worthwhile project nonetheless. There are several ways to get your song heard:

1) Send a digital recording to me, and I'll post it online with the other free downloads listed in PlanetSlade Music, together with a link from your chosen song's page here.

2) Post the recording online at your own site or the hosting service of your choice. Let me know where it can be found, and I'll add a link telling people where to go. Please remember that some hosting sites allow access to members only.

3) Film yourself performing the song, and post the video to YouTube. Once again, I'd be delighted to add a link here telling people where to find it.

4) Write your own song from scratch, based on the true story that inspired one of the ballads, then follow whichever of the above options suits you.

   Check PlanetSlade Music for a taste of what I have in mind. I spent all of 2012 recruiting contributors for this little project, and I've now accumulated at least one new recording of each of the 16 original ballads I selected. You can find links to all this audio on the PlanetSlade page above, or hear the whole "album" in the Soundcloud set here.
   The styles people have chosen range all the way from unaccompanied traditional folk singing via acoustic guitar ballads to full-on rock workouts with a whole band.
   Contributors so far include Sean Breadin of Rapunzel & Sedayne, The Jetsonics, Pete Morton, Fred Smith, Tim Radford, Big Al Whittle and South County.
   Three continents are represented in all, and at least one of the songs has already made it into the contributing band's live set. None of the tracks have achieved a commercial release yet, but I dare say a couple will make that leap eventually.
   We've already got multiple versions of several songs up there, including Nathaniel Mobbs and The Murdered Maid, so please don't feel you're too late to make your own contribution.
   I'm all for people adding second, third or even fourth interpretations of a single song, using as many different musical genres as we can muster. Many, many thanks to all those who've already taken part.
   You can reach me with any questions here