Murder Ballads
Secret London

Paul Slade Hello. My name's Paul Slade, and I've been a journalist here in London since 1982. During that time, I've written for The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent on Sunday, The Sunday Times, Mojo, Fortean Times, The Idler, Time Out and a host of other publications. In 2005, I started making occasional documentaries for BBC Radio 4, covering subjects like a forgotten radio hoax of 1926 and the craze for "dirty blues" lyrics in pre-war America.

I've developed a taste for writing long essays, a form very few magazines will consider buying

Like any hack who's been working for that length of time, I've accumulated a fair number of pet projects over the years. These are subjects which I've become passionately interested in myself but which, for one reason or another, I've never managed to sell as a commercial proposition. It doesn't help matters that I've recently developed a taste for writing longer essays - running anywhere up to 15,000 words in length - which is a form very few modern magazines are prepared to consider.
Hence this website. Here you'll find my guide to some of the world's most fascinating Murder Ballads, a series of Secret London's forgotten mysteries and, in the section I've cunningly titled Miscellany, anything else I damn well feel like including. My aim is to combine the old-fashioned virtues of traditional journalism - proper research, clear writing and a habit of checking my facts - with the global distribution and ease of access which only the internet can provide. I hope you find something here to take your interest.

- Paul Slade, London, April 2009


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STOP PRESS: New additions, reviews etc

ITEM: PlanetSladeís new book collects all my gallows ballads and bushranger ballads essays into a single volume. It also has a short play I wrote set in the gallows ballads world. Read all about it here, then go and buy a copy!.

ITEM: PlanetSladeís third paperback book is out now, and itís my updated history of Londonís Cross Bones Graveyard. Iíve added 40 pages of new interviews bringing the siteís story bang up to date, plus 18 colour photographs. Buy your copy here.

ITEM: This is Robert James Burdette and heís responsible for the greatest newspaper correction of all time. Read the full story behind it here.

ITEM: This is a detail from PlanetSladeís latest art commission, which adds a Gerhard background to our earlier Roger Langridge piece. Find the full pic and the story behind it here.

ITEM: February 10ís episode of BBC Radio 4ís AntiSocial tackled the current row about Tom Jonesí Delilah being sung on the terraces, and incudes a few minutes from me trying to put the song in its historical context. The full programmeís available here.

ITEM: The latest issue of ARSC Journal contains a longish review of my book Black Swan Blues. ďA fascinating and sympathetic look at the struggles as well as the successes of Harry PaceĒ, says the magís Robert Marovich (above). Read his full review here.

ITEM: Rick Geary, Roger Langridge, Gerhard, Hans Rickheit, Karl Stevens & Nick Gowman have all produced bespoke cartoon art for PlanetSlade over the years. Now you can see it all gathered together on our brand new gallery page.

ITEM: Jeremiah Corkery, a Peaky Blinder in all but name, murdered a Birmingham policeman in 1875. Four months later he was hanged, producing this gallows ballad. Bonus: A 1930s street song by the girls who dated the Peakies.

ITEM: Iíve been out photographing London street art again, and this time itís pieces addressing the Ukraine War. Includes graffiti murals, satirical posters, anti-Putin stickers and a pillar box with a lovely knitted hat. See them all

ITEM: Iíve been writing dinosaur limericks for a listener challenge on the TLS podcast. Nick Gowmanís drawn a rather wonderful cartoon to go with them. Read the tale of our ďmusical young stegosaurusĒ here.

ITEM: Peter Jacksonís 1950s newspaper strips are a rich source of London history and trivia even today. Read all about them here.

ITEM: I heard in January that my book Black Swan Blues has been nominated for one of the Association for Recorded Sound Collectionsí 2022 book awards. Weíll find out whoís won in September.

ITEM: Thanks to Anita M. Samuels of New Yorkís Daily News for this piece about my book in the paperís 2022 Black History Month supplement. Read her full article here.

ITEM: Detroit's Jawbone was a fixture on John Peel's show throughout the DJ's final year, and parlayed that support into a string of successful UK tours. Now he's back with his first new songs in over a decade. "I'm just trying to play music and have some fun," he tells PlanetSlade in this exclusive interview.

ITEM: I've been out photographing North London street art again. This time it's the wide variety of protest stickers adorning every lamp-post and street sign round here. Now you can see them for yourself.

ITEM: Unprepared to Die, my acclaimed 2015 murder ballads guide, is back in print at last. This is the only place you'll find my essays tackling Murder of the Lawson Family and Poor Ellen Smith, plus insights on all eight songs from star interviewees like Billy Bragg (on Hattie Carroll) and the Bad Seeds' Mick Harvey (on Stagger Lee). Buy your copy here.

ITEM: "[Slade] brings this colourful cast of characters to life and recounts Black Swan's fortunes. [.] A fascinating account of the enterprise which preceded Motown by some 40 years." Read Echoes's full review of my latest book, Black Swan Blues, here.

ITEM: Fans of Kit Williams' Masquerade won't want to miss this episode of Nick Hilton's The Town That Knew Too Much podcast. It includes some new information on the notorious Haresoft video game and an intriguing treasure hunt puzzle of its own.

ITEM: My new book is now available in paperback. It's the book that inspired Radiolab's hit series The Vanishing of Harry Pace and you can buy a copy here.

ITEM: This new Radiolab podcast series was inspired by Black Swan Blues, my 2014 book about Pace and his pioneering 1920s record label. It's been put together by the team behind Dolly Parton's America, so check it out here.

ITEM: Working with Radiolab on The Vanishing of Harry Pace uncovered a lot of new information about him. This new, expanded edition of my book is packed with fresh details and insights. Find out more here.

ITEM: NPR's Radio Diaries has a new epsiode telling the story of Harry Pace & Black Swan Records. The podcast's available here, and it'll also be getting an airing on your local NPR station.

ITEM: Ethel Waters' extraordinary performance of the 1933 song Suppertime was fuelled by her attempt to comfort the parents of a lynched young Black man 11 years earlier. This is the story of his murder and the white rioting that surrounded it.

ITEM: My Christmas gift to myself this year was commissioning a piece of original art from the cartoonist Roger Langridge. It shows nine of this site's Murder Ballads killers attacking one another in a bar room brawl. And here it is.

ITEM: Matt Aukamp's excellent Every Folk Song podcast has just added a new episode, this one a deep dive into Pretty Polly & its 18th Century parent song The Cruel Ship's Carpenter.
   It's built round an epic conversation Matt and I had about the song earlier this year, so there's a fair bit of me yammering on in this one. You can decide for yourself whether that's a good thing or not here.

ITEM: Ever since US police killed George Floyd on May 25, I've been keeping my eye out for Black Live Matters street art in my corner of northeast London. Here's what I've found so far.

ITEM: I've just added two new Bushranger Ballads essays to PlanetSlade, both covering songs about Ben Hall. Only Ned Kelly has had more of these ballads devoted to him than Hall, and when you're read these two articles you'll see why. Start with The Death of Ben Hall and then move on to The Streets of Forbes to complete his story.

ITEM: During London's coronavirus lockdown, some people spent their permitted hour of daily exercise admiring birdsong and such. Not me: I was busy photographing my neighbourhood's growing collection of virus-themed street art. Here's what I found.

ITEM: As Britain's coronavirus lockdown continues, I interviewed the co-owner of London's Gosh Comics to ask how the store was coping.
    If you're worried about the future of your own local comics shop - or any other small specialist retailer for that matter - you'll want to see what he has to say.

ITEM: We've discussed The Wratten Family Murders here on PlanetSlade before, but only on the letters page in rather episodic form.
    The podcast interview mentioned below prompted me to finally write a proper account of these 1893 killings. Bud Stone was the man wielding the corn knife, and this is how his crimes begin.

ITEM: Matt Aukamp's Every Folk Song podcast investigates The Wratten Family Murders in it's latest episode. That's the eerie "corn knife" song you may remember from Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House.
    Matt interviewed me about the song (and the case behind it) back in February, so you'll hear my dulcet tones in the episode too. Click here to listen.

ITEM: "It's a conscious expansion of feel and style, and foreshadowing my songwriter project a bit. I wanted to try playing more instruments this time too."
    That's the Canadian bluesman Uncle Sinner telling me about his excellent new album Trouble of This World. You can read our full interview here.

ITEM: Sad Ass Songs, the first episode of Radiolab's epic new podcast series on the great Dolly Parton, includes a short section about Knoxville Girl and a few comments on the song's origins from me.
    The whole series promises to be a great listen, so just click on Dolly Parton's America to subscribe.

ITEM: PlanetSlade's latest essay investigates the remarkable burial ground at Whitefield's Tabernacle in Central London.
    Central to its tale is an extraordinary 19th Century legal battle between the chapel's trustees and a rapacious fairground operator who'd occupied the site. Prayers were drowned out by his rifle range, while performing monkeys danced on the desecrated graves. Read all about it here.

ITEM: The Hamoaze Band now has an album of the songs from its recent PlanetSlade-inspired stageshow available free on Soundcloud. I've written about the show itself here.

ITEM: I've just posted the first three of my Bushranger Songs essays.
    These cover Bold Jack Donohoe, Wild Colonial Boy and Death of Peter Clark, giving full lyrics and the True Crime story behind each ballad.
    Taken together, this trio offers a template for every bushranger legend that followed, a song AL Loyd rated as "Australia's unofficial national anthem" and a rare crime ballad told from the victim's point of view. Find out more here.

ITEM: PlanetSlade's latest addition, More Moshpit Memories, is a sequel to the site's popular article relating my gig-going adventures of 1975-1981.
    This time, I'm covering the period 1982-2002, when my major obsessions included Alan Moore, The Pogues, The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and any twanged-up country band I could find playing on licenced premises.
    I had a lot of fun in those two decades, and you join me at the bar here.

ITEM: Bushranger Ballads are home-grown Australian songs about the continent's most notorious 19th century highwaymen.
    Bold and cheerful thieves like Jack Donohoe, Ben Hall and Ned Kelly (above) are seen as heroic underdogs down under, and their ballads still used as protest songs.
    This new PlanetSlade essay looks at these ballads' Irish roots, the transportee convicts who spread them round Australia and the young performers taking them up today.

ITEM: I've just posted an extended version of my 2017 Tom Russell interview.
    The piece first sppeared in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of fRoots magazine. It's supplemented here by some bonus chat with Tom, my review of his latest album and a few notes and pics from the three Russell gigs I caught on his recent UK tour.

ITEM: 2018 begins with a PlanetSlade treasure hunt for your New Year entertainment.
    I've donated 30 special copies of my murder ballads book - each one signed and numbered - to 30 different charity shops round London.
    Find one of these rare editions, and you'll have the chance to buy it at a bargain price, while also knowing your money goes to support the charity's valuable work.
    Click here to see the photo clues identifying every shop I used. Some are easy, some are hard and some are damn near impossible, but I'm confident you'll be up to the challenge!

ITEM: Soundcheck Books has just added the option of buying single chapters from Unprepared To Die in the Kindle store at only £1.49 each ($1.85 in US).
    These include my book's two entirely exclusive chapters, which you can read nowhere else. Murder of the Lawson Family details a particularly grisly Christmas killing, while Poor Ellen Smith contains my scoop revelation of who wrote this deathless 1893 song.
    It's also only in Unprepared To Die that you'll find my murder ballads interviews with all the musicians listed in our house ad above. To see a full list of the chapters available, just click on one of the following links:

Buy a chapter on Amazon US

Buy a chapter on Amazon UK

ITEM: Prompted by a reader's letter in the summer of 2017, I did some fresh research into the classic murder ballad Duncan & Brady. Read the true story of the 1890 St Louis gun battle which inspired the song here.
    That's Harrison Duncan, the real killer, pictured above. The song tells us that he "shot a hole right through King Brady's chest", and my new research confirms that's exactly what happened.

ITEM: Pennsylvania's Dukes/Nutt affair had all the elements of a lurid daytime soap: the sexually explicit letter calling a beloved daughter's honour into question; the outraged father gunned down while challenging his daughter's despoiler; his killer walking free from court; lynch mobs baying in the streets; riots and a fleeing jury; the dead man's son taking fatal revenge; high rhetoric at the boy's trial and a determined bending of the law to ensure he escaped punishment; an innocent woman shot in the violent aftermath; and a prison sentence cut short by friends in the governor's mansion.
    Added to the site in March 2017, PlanetSlade's first major essay for over two years tells the full story of this extraordinary Victorian case. Read all about it here.

ITEM: My 2016 Halloween Special documentary for London's Resonance FM has now been safely archived on Mixcloud. That link will take you to the full audio.
    In this hour-long programme, I sketch out the true crime stories behind eight of my favourite Gallows Ballad Project recordings and play the exclusive tracks this project has inspired by The Jetsonics, Pete Morton, Fred Smith, Doc Bowling and many other contributors.
    We'd still love to have more musicians add their own interpretations of these splendidly bloodthirsty old songs. For details of how to do so, click here.

ITEM: True Crime Library has another chance to win a free copy of Unprepared To Die on its website. It's a Johnny Cash question this time round, and the competition closes on June 6.

ITEM: Six songs from my book feature prominently in a new piece of PlanetSlade work by the Canadian artist Gerhard - best-known for his role on Dave Sim's Cerebus.
    Gerhard's "Murder Ballet" concept elegantly poses each kiler-and-victim couple as a pair of dancers, their music provided by an important musician in the song's history. In the detail above, for example, we see Pretty Polly with The Stanley Brothers.
    You can see the full piece in all its HD glory here, along with the story of how I came to commission it.

ITEM: "It's a dauntingly complete and fascinating piece of work," Greil Marcus says of Unprepared To Die. "I was particularly struck by the chapter on the Lawson family murders."
    Marcus has written a string of award-winning music books, including Mystery Train (1975), Dead Elvis (1991) and The Old, Weird America (2011). You can read more of his e-mailed comments here. (Pic: La TÍte KranÁien, creative commons.)

ITEM: The popular culture website Zachary Mule has just posted a long interview with me about Unprepared To Die. If you're curious to know which one murder song disturbed me more than any other, then this piece has the answer.
    The Mule's Darren Tracy also reviews my book. "What a great read!" he says. "Whether you're a music fan, a history fan or a true crime fan, Unprepared To Die should be right up your dark alley."

ITEM: The Spring issue of R2 magazine carries Dai Jeffries' interview with me about Unprepared To Die.
    We discussed the roots of my fascination with murder ballads, my US research trips preparing the book and the fatal pull Murder of the Lawson Family exerts on all who hear the song.
    The issue in question is number 56 which, as you can see above, has the excellent Loretta Lynn on its cover.

ITEM: True Crime Library, publisher of True Detective, Master Detective, True Crime and Murder Most Foul, has a free prize draw to win a copy of my book on its website. Entries must be in by April 6.
    The company's running a pair of competitions to win copies of the book too. These appear in TCL's newsletter and in the current issue of True Crime itself. Look for the issue with an April cover date (shown above), which reaches the shops on March 24.

ITEM: "A captivating cultural history. As entertaining as it is educational." That's Record Collector's Alan Clayson describing my book in his February 24 review for the magazine.
    Over at Songlines, Nigel Williamson was equally impressed. "Slade is meticulous reporter," he writes. "The pace of his narrative never falters and should send you back to the songs with fresh ears."
    Steve Hunt, writing in the April 2016 issue of fRoots, is also full of praise. "[It's] a brilliantly simple idea, and a simply brilliant book," he writes, "with revelations on every page".
    You can find links to all three men's full reviews here.

ITEM: Jack Beard devoted his February 14 University of New Hampshire Folk Show to a playlist inspired by my book.
    He dug deep into the murder ballads genre, playing not only the classics, but also several recordings (and at least one song) which were entirely new to me. You'll also hear Jack read a few short extracts from the book itself.
    The full two-hour show has now been archived online at the WUNH website: Part 1; Part 2.

ITEM: Killer Songs, my hour-long radio guide to murder ballads, went out on London's Resonance FM on January 28. You can hear the programme archived online here (Mixcloud).
    The show features audio clips from my book's interviews with Billy Bragg, Ralph Stanley, The Bad Seeds' Mick Harvey and a host of other leading musicians. We also play 12 of my favourite murder ballads tracks, including contributions from Steve Earle, The Handsome Family and Snakefarm.
    There's a full playlist plus details of all my interviewees here.

ITEM: I'm giving a talk about murder ballads at The Old King's Head in Southwark on January 14. It's a South East London Folklore Society event. We'll have copies of the book on sale there which I'll be delighted to sign or dedicate for you. Details and tickets from the SELFS link above.

ITEM: "Unprepared to Die really is a fascinating read," says Fatea's Neil King in his December 18 review. You can find Neil's full comments here, together with your chance to win a free copy of the book in Fatea's competition.
   Psychobabble feels the book is "particularly fascinating when race is an issue", adding that it "delivers an emotional wallop". And R2's Dai James praises it for being "expertly researched". You can find links to all the book's full reviews here.

ITEM: Genevieve Tudor and I discussed Knoxville Girl's UK roots on December 20's edition of her BBC Radio Shropshire folk music show. We talked about my work to confirm the real killer and victim's names, adding appropriate music from Waterson:Carthy and The Handsome Family to illustrate it all. The full show is archived here, and my segment starts an hour in.

ITEM: December 10's Winston-Salem Journal carries Lisa O'Donnell's account of the book's North Carolina research trip in April and the Lawson Family work I did there. You can read the full article here.

ITEM: The book's reviews have started coming in, with the three I've seen so far all giving it a resounding thumbs-up.
   Goldmine calls the book " a major contribution to the annals of folk", while Spiral Earth says my passion for the subject "soaks every page like the innocent victims' spilt blood". FolkWords adds: "Pick it up once and you're hooked". Links to the full reviews appear on this PlanetSlade page.

ITEM:Wayne Bledsoe of the Knoxville News-Sentinel devoted his November 20 music column to a piece about my book. He and I spoke last week about my revelation that Knoxville Girl's real killer and victim can now be named, a bit of fresh information he was keen to pass on to the song's home city audience. You can read the resulting article here.

ITEM: Blues and Roots Radio devoted a special hour-long documentary to my book on November 14. The show, hosted by Fatea's Neil King, is archived for your listening pleasure on this Mixcloud page. As well as my own answers to Neil's questions on murder ballads, you'll hear some excellent examples of the songs we discuss from Steve Earle, Lloyd Price, The Handsome Family, Laura Cantrell, Dave Alvin, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, Estil Ball and Snakefarm.

ITEM: I've just posted a seven-minute YouTube video, based on the book's introduction, explaining why it needed to be written and how I came to be so obsessed with these gory, fascinating songs in the first place. Watch it here, and please share the link with your friends.

ITEM: Sing Out!'s Murder Ballad Monday website has just posted a long interview questioning me about every aspect of the book. It's the MBM blog entry dated November 9, 2015, and you'll find it here.

ITEM: This month's fRoots magazine carries an exclusive extract from my book, discussing the unexpected origins of Poor Ellen Smith's ballad. Look for issue 390, cover-dated December 2015, with a picture of Andy Irvine on the cover. The magazine's subscribers can read the full article online via this page of the fRoots website.