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Letters to Planet Slade: October ‘09

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

September 6, 2009. Neil King of Fatea magazine writes: “Paul - just to let you know that a new version of Knoxville Girl is on Jackie Oates' new album under the title The Butcher's Boy. All the elements are there: murder as contraception, the walk with her lover, the nosebleed.
    “I found your murder ballad pages really interesting. It's fascinating how the DNA of one song can populate so many different versions, spellings and titles. ”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for tipping me off about the Jackie Oates track, which is excellent. I was aware of the connection between the two songs, but neither of the two Butcher's Boy recordings I have make it nearly so explicit. There's no mistaking the link with Jackie Oates' lyrics though, is there?
    I'm also grateful to you for introducing me to the
Fatea website, and the free download compilations you offer there. So few hours in the day, so much great new music to find and enjoy!

September 8, 2009: Jean-Marie Carroll of The Members writes “Thanks for the mention of my version of Knoxville Girl. A couple of points:
    “I think the boy was mentally unbalanced because he calls for a hankerchief to bind his aching head, and the way he drug her round. Also, The Members are still functioning, so I am a current Member.”

Paul Slade replies: I said you were “late of The Members” in my Knoxville Girl piece, so apologies for that. I've still got an old cassette tape of The Members' John Peel session from January 1979, which I dig out and play once in a while, and I'm glad to hear the band's still up and running. Any outfit which can make you dance and smile at the same time is all right with me.
September 9, 2009: Joe Dignam writes: “I'm very interested in the Stagolee lyrics, but can't seem to find the lyrics that Eric Bibb performs live. I'm starting to think they may be his own adaption?”

Paul Slade replies: I've just listened to the Eric Bibb studio version I've got (from his 2008 album Spirit I Am), and I'd say it's basically a version of Mississippi John Hurt's 1928 lyrics.
    Bibb omits Hurt's first verse (“Police officer, how can it be...”) and imports a couple of lines from the song's toast tradition with the “bartender's looking glass” reference. But aside from that, it's MJH all the way. The musical style's very similar too, with both songs using what I'd loosely call a Piedmont blues style. Both men spell the song's name as “Stagolee” too, which may indicate that Bibb took his inspiration from Hurt's classic rendition.
    The version on Bibb's
Live a Fip album is even closer to Hurt, restoring the “Police Officer” verse to its rightful place. The giveaway in each case is the “Gentlemens of the jury...” couplet, which I always think of as the signature lines of Hurt's version.
September 10, 2009: Malcolm Burgess of Oxygen Books writes: “Great blog! I was wondering if you'd be interested in looking at a copy of City-lit London. It includes over 60 writers on London, from Will Self and Peter Ackroyd to Monica Ali and Alan Bennett. It was published in June this year.”

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for the book. I've only dipped into it so far, but I was particularly struck by page 148's description of a lively night in the Haymarket: “On Saturday nights, half a million working men and women and their children spread like the ocean all over town, clustering in certain districts and celebrating their Sabbath all night long until 5:00 o'clock in the morning. [...] Everyone is in a hurry to drink himself into insensibility. Wives in no way lag behind their husbands and all get drunk together, while children run and crawl about among them.”
    That's Fyodor Dostoyevsky, describing what he saw during his London visit of 1862. Nothing much changes in our fair city, does it?

Bouncing blogs from the Big Smoke to the Bayou

Time Out's Big Smoke blog was kind enough to give PlanetSlade a plug again this month. Peter Watts, the blog's author, mentions that he once lived just down the street from the Necropolis Railway's Westminster Bridge Road Station, in a building that was itself converted from old MI6 offices. “Even the dullest London streets can harbour extraordinary surprises,” he adds, and that's a sentiment I'd heartily endorse.
The site also popped up in some more unexpected places, including a St Louis radio station, a branding consultant's blog and a Dorset historian's on-line musings.
Let's start with the St Louis radio station. That city's KDHX has a DJ called Sonny Boy whose Howzit Bayou? zydeco show played Stella Johnson's The Trial of Stagger Lee on its August 4 edition. Sonny's playlist blog duly credits PlanetSlade as prompting this selection, and the thought that I may have helped bring this aspect of Stag's tale back to his hometown audience kept a smile on my face all week.
The branding consultant was Mike Arauz of Brooklyn's Undercurrent agency, who liked my London Treasure Hunt Riots story enough to present it as a cautionary tale on his blog. I hadn't actually thought of the story as an example of viral marketing until I read Mike's take on it, but I can see that it makes perfect sense to do so. Meanwhile, over at Boing Boing, Wirelizard compared the Weekly Dispatch scheme to an even more challenging Canadian Club campaign in 1967.
As for the Dorset historian, well that would be Justin Pollard, whose blog tells us he acted as historical consultant on BBC Two's The Tudors. On September 10, Justin wrote a piece about the London Necropolis Railway on his site, a piece which appeared just two weeks after my own account went on-line. It evidently slipped his mind to credit PlanetSlade as what appears to be his one and only source on this subject, so I'm sure he'll be glad to see me correct his omission here.
As usual, I've also been plugging the site on various message boards, and you'll find the the best of the comments they've produced in this page's box. The full threads, as ever, are linked below.

BBC Radio 2: Folk & Acoustic

Froots magazine

Harmony Central


Mojo magazine

Mudcat Cafe


The Straight Dope

Your yammering yields yards of 'Yippee!' yells

On Planet Slade
“A site with some great articles.” - Chaotic, Boingboing.

“It's a great site with fascinating info.” -Blue2blue, Harmony Central.

“If you love music history, I recommend PlanetSlade.” - Infomantic, Wordpress.

“Fascinating, well researched, and very well written.” - Jjimm, The Straight Dope.

“That's a wicked site, Slade. Good stuff.” - Usedtabef'n'b, Mojo.

“Wow, pretty outstanding stuff. Really great.” - Shmegegge, Metafilter.

On Murder Ballads
“This is awesome.” - Infinitewindow, Metafilter.

“Looking really good.” - Marie McPartlin, organiser, World of the Ballad festival.

On Knoxville Girl
“Outstanding essay.” - Squonk's Tears, Mojo.

“Very cool.” - Miller, The Straight Dope.

“Very interesting stuff.” - McWilly, Reddit.

“Good essay.” - Tamerlane, The Straight Dope.

“An impressive piece of scholarly research. I wish there was more like it around.” - A-roving, BBC Radio 2 Folk & Acoustic.

“Damned interesting.” - Samclem, moderator, The Straight Dope.

“A good read - interesting as usual.” - Rhino55, Harmony Central.

“Entertaining and informative. It would have made an excellent Radio 4 programme.” - Andy Turner, Froots.

“Interesting.” - Ruth Archer, Mudcat.

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading your Knoxville Girl piece.” - EnglishFolkFan, BBC Radio 2 Folk & Acoustic.