Tweet Follow @PlanetSlade

Masquerade competition: the winners

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
Murder Ballads
Secret London

Many thanks to everyone who entered PlanetSlade's competition to win tickets for the Victoria & Albert Museum's current British Design 1948-2012 exhibition here in London. The show will give Kit Williams' Golden Hare medallion from his 1979 puzzle book Masquerade its first ever full-scale public exhibition.
All the entries are now in, the draw's been made, and we know who the winners are. I asked you to tell me whether the veteran rock star who wrote the songs for Masquerade's 1982 run as a London stage musical was: (a) Rick Wakeman, (b) Rod Argent, or (c) Pete Townshend. The answer of course was (b), and that's exactly what most of you replied.
The two lucky names drawn from a hole in the ground at Ampthill are:

David Darlington of Sydenham, South London, and;
Stephen Miller of Newbury in Berkshire.

Congratulations to those two gentlemen, each of whom win a pair of tickets to the V&A show. There, they'll be able to see not only the Golden Hare medallion itself, but more than 300 other items besides, including a 1961 E-type Jag, a Brownie Vectra camera, the original photo from David Bowie's Aladdin Sane LP, and an Alexander McQueen evening gown.
Thanks also to the V&A for donating these tickets as PlanetSlade prizes. You'll find full details of the four-month show at the museum's own website here.
Letters to Planet Slade: April 2012

February 24, 2012. David Darlington of Sydenham in South London writes:
"I'm someone with a strong interest in Kit Williams' Masquerade. Today, I interrupted a ludicrously busy work schedule to visit Ampthill for the very first time - the reason being that today is the 30th anniversary of the (purported?) unearthing of the hare itself.
"Masquerade mania strikes me about once every year or two, and I can think of little else till the itch is scratched. As I said to my Facebook friends today:
'In the noonday shadow of this cross, on August 7, 1979, artist Kit Williams hid a jeweled golden hare, the prize at the end of his Masquerade treasure hunt. The hunt was solved and the jewel was found - not necessarily by the same person - and on February 24, 1982, at 2.45pm, a man calling himself Ken Thomas dug the jewel out of the ground in which it had lain buried for over two years. Thirty years later, to the precise minute, this photograph was taken, on the exact same spot. The sun set, and the day was over'."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for your letter. As you'll have gathered from PlanetSlade, I get fairly obsessed with one subject or another myself from time to time, so I do recognise that need to scratch an itch which you mention. And speaking of Masquerade...

February 10, 2012: Shaun Jman of London writes:
"I read your blog while scouring the internet for info on Kit Williams' hare.
"I make jewellery for a hobby and am always looking for new ideas. One day the radio alarm went off and there was a BBC radio program about Masquerade. I forgot about it for a while, but then had some time on my hands, did a bit of research and bought the Masquerade book.
"I intend to make a replica of the original medallion, but I've also made a smaller version in silver. You mentioned that the original was 5½ inches, which was a big help.
"Here's my attempt at a silver hare:"

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for your letter, Shaun. I'm not sure how Kit Williams would feel about you using his design in this way, but if you'd like me to, I could pass on a copy of your letter and ask if he's happy for me to run it here. I'll stress that you don't seem to be doing this in any cynical or greedy way, and let you know what he's got to say.

February 12, 2012: Shaun Jman of London writes:
"Thanks for the reply. I don't intend to sell the full size replica: it's similar to copying a drawing, just for my own amusement and to show that if someone had their own design I could make something to their spec.
"I make YouTube videos of the process of making jewellery. They aren't that popular, I just try to make the kind of videos I would like to watch. I'm afraid I haven't got the ability to create original artwork like Kit Williams, just a little skill and some tools to make things.
"There are a few items I've seen around the net and on that use the Masquerade hare for inspiration, so I didn't think there was a problem there. If you do take the time to talk to Mr Williams and he doesn't like the idea of what I'm doing, just drop me a line and I'll move onto something else. He seems a decent bloke, and I'd hate to think I'd offended him."

[I contacted Kit's wife, explaining I wanted to avoid either stamping on Shaun's creativity or implying that the original hare design was now public property. Here's her reply.]

February 12, 2012. Mrs Williams of Somewhere in England writes:
"Thank you for your consideration and sensitivity in your response to Shaun's work and e-mails. It's a difficult area to deal with. Kit is not someone who would willingly put anyone else down, but would rather encourage them in other directions and to find their own voice.
"He has asked me to send to you his feelings on this matter, which would apply to anyone doing this kind of thing. All he asks is that if you forward to Shaun what he says. Thank you!"

"When I first started out as an artist, I worked with an old craftsman who gave me a valuable piece of advice. He said, 'Make sure that whatever you do can never be mistaken for anyone else's work'. It is something I have always endeavoured to do and it is a piece of advice that I would gladly pass on to anyone.
"Now, in this world there are copies, reproductions, replicas, fakes and downright forgeries. But inspiration is quite an other thing. Every artist, scientist and craftsman hopes that others who come in contact with their work may be inspired to create something even more wonderful. There is nothing so gratifying as to have made something that is truly one's own." - Kit.

February 12, 2012. Shaun Jman writes:
"First, got to say many thanks. My original email was just to say thanks for the info on your site that helped me in my little project. I had no idea that it would end up with some advice from Kit Williams!!
"I'm not sure if I will make the [full-size] replica now. I think I've covered the part where no one could mistake it for my idea. Half the focus is that the design comes from the Masquerade book, and the other part is just an interesting (I hope) video of something being made. I've got lots of ideas going all at once, so it would be easy to let one go.
"Thanks for taking the time to listen to me and pass on the message to Mr Williams: It's really appreciated."

March 5, 2012. Spencer Bayles of Yorkshire band The Housekeeping Society writes:
"I came across your fantastic essay on the tale of Lobby Lud while researching some seaside-themed stories for my band's new album. Having been initially tipped off about Lobby by my partner's father, I was keen to unearth further information; the account on your site was a huge inspiration for the resulting song.
"Seaside Mystery Man will appear on the new Housekeeping Society record, entitled Postcards, which will be released in May 2012. A song cycle about the rise and decline of the British seaside, it sees Mr Lud rub shoulders with B&B owners, wistful holidaymakers and bereaved fishermen's wives."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for that, Spencer - I'm glad I could help. Your song's got just the right sunny, innocent feel to it for this particular tale, I think. If you're curious to hear what the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's George Hinchliffe's did with Lobby's original Victorian song, you cam find a link to his recording in PlanetSlade Music.

February 16, 2012. Jan Joos, of Pepingen in Belgium, writes:
"[PlanetSlade] is a very interesting website indeed. I'm mostly interested in Dylan-related stuff though.
"Dylan is an artist first of all: a poet and a singer. The details of your Hattie Caroll report could never ever be poured into a song. Nor the rights and wrongs, the 'what ifs', the forensics, the testimonies, and the rest of your research. In 1964, Dylan was a young man, with some fame and some money. But he was vulnerable still financially, and he depended on his record company.
"Is it not odd that Zantzinger never sued Dylan, the newspapers, the Afro American and whoever he could in an attempt to clear his name, or have his voice be heard? He had the wealth (or the family did) to do so. Yet they, and he, remained silent. [...] Is it not your opinion that the Zantzingers decided not to take any actions, just because of the truth, which really lies beneath Dylan's words in the song? Maybe they felt they had already enough bad publicity. Or could it be that the family said to themselves, 'Enough with that spoilt brat of ours...'
"Does it really matter if Mrs Carroll died directly or indirectly from the cane of Mr. Zantzinger? A rich, drunken young man, with a great future ahead, hit a woman after treating her as a 'black bitch' and she dies. Maybe - just maybe - the Dylan song isn't accurate enough, but what does that change in the facts?
"Dylan is not a lawyer. He's a poet and singer. [...] In the song, a 'diamond ring finger' sounds much better than, 'a rich man'. Since when does a poet or singer have to be a reporter? Let the facts be the facts, and the song be the song. [...] I believe that Dylan's song did more good to the world in general than Zantzinger's cane."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for your letter, which I hope you'll forgive me for editing a little here. I say several times in my piece that I think Hattie Carroll is a masterpiece, so we can certainly agree on that much. Also, please don't read anything I've written as an attempt to defend Zantzinger. He behaved like a spoilt, racist thug on the night in question, and I've no sympathy for that whatsoever.
My nagging doubt about the song is how much responsibility Dylan (or any other songwriter) has to get his basic facts right when singing about something that really happened. Should we assume that's a core part of the job, as it would be for any responsible journalist or historian? Or is he more like a novelist, who may take a newspaper story as his spinning-off point, but is then free to ignore or change any facts which don't fit where his imagination leads him?
I'm thinking here of facts like Zantzinger never actually being charged with "first degree murder" (as Dylan states) let alone convicted of it, and facts like Hattie Carroll's exact cause of death being considerably complicated by existing health problems. When it comes to a criminal trial, distinctions like that matter quite a bit, and any print journalist would quite rightly be expected to get them straight. I'm not clear why we should exempt songwriters from this responsibility just because they happen to set their own accounts to music.
That said, the song's certainly artistically true and it unquestionably captures the spirit of Zantzinger's revolting behaviour in a powerful and expertly-crafted way. Again, I do acknowledge this in the piece, making exactly the point you raise about the economy and elegance of Dylan's "diamond ring finger" image.
I'd be quite happy to put Dylan in the novelist's category and give him all the leeway that implies if it weren't for the fact that he's often introduced Hattie Carroll as a true story on stage, and been happy to take the extra little frisson of excitement which this gives the song. He can't have it both ways, can he?
One of the joys of researching a subject like this is that the real story always turns out to be so much more complex and interesting than the pop culture version that everyone thinks they know. I'm glad my account engaged you enough to make you want to challenge it.

February 15, 2012. Debra Cowan of Massachusetts writes:
"I just saw your thread on Mudcat. I have audio on-line of myself performing Frank Proffit's Joshuay, a version of The Maid Freed From the Gallows, Prickly Bush etc. You can hear it and download it for free on here.
"Great website and I know I'll enjoy perusing what you've come up with."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks so much for the link - I love your voice on that track.
I first came across this song as Gallows Pole on a Led Zeppelin album of my youth, and that led me back to investigate many of the earlier versions. Robert Plant used to enjoy tweaking critics' expectations by referring to LedZep as "the world's loudest folk band", and Gallows Pole proves his point admirably.
The gestation period was quite a long one, but it was this song as much as any other which eventually started me thinking about PlanetSlade's content in the first place.

[Debra is a full-time singer/songwriter with three solo albums to her credit. She's worked with Fairport Convention's Dave Mattacks and Dave Pegg, and I'm hoping I might persuade her to do one of our Gallows Ballads songs before too long.]

February 10, 2012: Simeon Peebler of Chicago, Illinois, writes:
"Hello Paul! I came across your website by way of
"I am very interested in writing some music and recording it based on one of the gallows ballads. Can you point me to one or two that have yet to be recorded or that you think might be of most interest to you? I've enjoyed some of the songs recorded so far and it would be a lot of fun to try to tackle one!
"You can hear some of my music at or"

Paul Slade replies: Thanks so much for getting touch. I've just been listening to your album, and I'd be delighted if you'd like to tackle one of the ballads.
I wouldn't presume to tell you which to pick, because the important thing is that you find one that especially appeals to you. You'll have a far better idea which ones would suit your style best.
Whichever song (or songs) you choose, please do feel free to tweak the lyrics here and there if you find that's necessary to make them performable. The guys who wrote these things were very down-to-earth jobbing hacks, and not remotely precious about their work. They're all written in ballad format, which means they're half-way to a musical setting already.

[As I write this at the end of March 2012, PlanetSlade readers have posted their own recordings of six songs from the site's Gallows Ballads section on-line, with another six recordings promised soon. For a list of links taking you to all the recordings so far, and details of how you can add your own contribution, please visit PlanetSlade Music here.]

Message board round-up

The sources for my latest selection of blurbs (Keyboard kings' kudos...) can be found below. Sometimes there's quite an interesting discussion attached.

City of New Babbage

Comics Beat

The Fake Life





Penny Arcade


Small Town Noir

Lots of literate luminaries laud lessons learned

On Planet Slade
"Fantastic website ... especially the Secret London section." - BTNG, Mudcat.

"Paul Slade's wonderful murder ballads site." - Neil King, Fatea.

"Follow @PlanetSlade." - Crow Jane, Sing a Song of Murder, via Twitter.

"Fascinating reading." - Theyitthian, Fortean Times.

"Really a remarkable work-in-progress - well worth a regular visit." - Lorne Bair, Lorne Bair Rare Books.

"Excellent site!" - Eburacum, Fortean Times.

On Murder Ballads
"What a fascinating book. I can't believe the research you put into it. I'm very impressed and I learned a lot of stuff, too!" - Emma Parker, Authonomy.

"You write well, your material is engaging and as a whole it's a fascinating topic." - Ben Clark of literary agents LAW, via e-mail.

"Brilliant. I have a friend who will LOVE your website." - Marie Benton, The Choir With No Name, via e-mail.

On Stagger Lee
"Good stuff." - Max, Mudcat.

On British Broadsides
"The story behind the ballad it is one I'll definitely be telling!" - Storyteller Bill Dawson on The Liverpool Lodger.

"This fascinating account." - James Whitehead, Fortean Times, on Mary Arnold.

On Necropolis Railway
"One for the steampunks amongst us." - Porcus_Volans, Moorcock's Miscellany.

On NYC Murals
"A handy collection." - Elie Perler, Bowery Boogie.