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Gallows Ballads Project: tracklist

 
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Miscellany
Murder Ballads
Secret London

PlanetSlade’s British Broadsides section contains the full lyrics for 16 genuine Victorian gallows ballads, plus my own research on the real murders and other crimes which inspired each one. These are the songs knocked out overnight by jobbing hacks in London’s Seven Dials and sold at the foot of the scaffold while the condemned man - or woman - was still dangling. The most popular could shift well over two million copies.
With the 16 sets of public-domain lyrics and the stories behind them now available to every reader, all that remains is restore them to life as fully-performed songs. For details of how you can help me do precisely that, please see the box to your right. You might also want to visit this Mudcat thread, where many of the performers below have interesting things to say about the songs they chose. I’ve extracted the best of these comments for our sleevenotes.
I’m hoping I can eventually present links to performances of all 16 songs here. Many singers and musicians have already been kind enough to make new recordings in support of this project, and you’ll find all the ones we’ve collected so far below.

 
1) Elsa Lanchester: Mrs Dyer the Baby Farmer [Lanchester/Henderson]
Lanchester’s best-known for playing the title role in Universal’s 1935 movie Bride of Frankenstein. This recording is salvaged from her rather less famous 1960 LP Cockney London, which has been out of print for many years. She’s accompanied by Ray Henderson on piano, and the lyrics they use come from the 1896 ballad sheet I discuss here.

2) The Hammond School, Chester: Gallows Child [Trad, arr Nicola Andrew]
My own field recording from a performing arts school's Christmas 2011 production of Oliver Twist. Nicola Andrew, the show's director, found the lyrics to this 1820 ballad on PlanetSlade, added the music from God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and built it into the show. I'm posting it here with the school's permission. The true story behind Gallows Child fits Oliver's tale perfectly, and you can read my account of it here.

3) Sedayne: The Silent Grove [Trad/Breadin]
Sean Breadin, half of the acclaimed UK folk duo Rapunzel & Sedayne, recorded this solo voice-and-fiddle rendition after seeing my appeal for contributors on Mudcat. The link heading this entry takes you to his own Soundcloud site, where you can listen or download your own copy. For me, Sean’s tune conjures a vision of demons swirling round Henry’s head and pressing him on to the awful deed. Read the story behind it all here.

4) Tim Radford: The Old Baby Farmer [Trad/Radford]
Tim is an English singer now living in Massachusetts. His Soundcloud link here has him singing Mrs Dyer’s tale unaccompanied in a strong, resonant voice. “I learnt this song from my late friend Dave Williams, when I was still living in Hampshire,’ he says. Tim has albums out on both the Fallen Angle and Forest Track labels, details of which you’ll find at the same link. Read the story behind the song here.

5) Rob Wahl: Streams of Crimson Blood [Trad/Wahl]
Rob – who's also known as Artful Codger over on Mudcat - sings unaccompanied here, adding just the right touch of Victorian horror and melodrama to the tale in his delivery. Read the true story behind the song here Music copyright © 2012 by Robert Wahl. All rights reserved.

6) Foxen: The Unnatural Murder [Trad/Foxen]
Foxen are John and Margaret Foxen, a UK folk duo. John’s tune, which he wrote with Margaret’s soprano vocals very much in mind, has a nicely archaic feeling to it, and he adds his own guitar, fiddle and concertina to accompany her. Read the story behind the ballad here.

7) KingBrilliant: The Foreigner’s Downfall [Trad/King]
KingBrilliant (aka Kris King of Reading in Berkshire) gives Dedea Redanies’ dying confession a slow, carefully gentle reading, accompanying herself on a softly-picked acoustic guitar. Read the true story behind the ballad here.

8) Pete Morton: Jealous Annie [Trad/Morton]
Pete, one of best songwriters in the UK folk scene, was kind enough to bring his guitar round to PlanetSlade’s North London HQ to record Jealous Annie at my very own kitchen table! The lyrics are taken from an original 1848 ballad sheet, and the tune is Pete’s own composition. You can hear more of his music at www.petemorton.com, and read the true story behind this particular song here.

9) Big Al Whittle: Death of William Palmer [Trad/Whittle]
Big Al provides some particularly nice acoustic guitar work on this version of the song its original 1856 sheet called The Life & Trial of Palmer, and you can hear the result on Soundcloud’s page at the title link above. Palmer was a boozy, gambling doctor who poisoned both family and friends to clear his debts. He ended his life on the gallows at Stafford Gaol, but went on to become a footnote in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Read his full story here.

10) Ernest Johnson: The Westmill Murder [Trad/Johnson]
Ernie adds his own tune to these original 1848 lyrics, performing it on acoustic guitar and adding an excellent little harmonica break halfway through. You can hear it at his Soundcloud page at the title link above, watch his YouTube video and read the full story of this song’s nine-year-old killer here.

11)Mary Humphreys: The Sister & The Serpent [Trad/Humphreys]
Mary unearthed the ballad sheet’s suggested tune for these lyrics from a 1944 field recording, and uses it for her performance here. The two killers lived in Castle Camps, Cambridgeshire, where Mary regularly attends tune sessions at a local pub called The Cock. You can read about the real murder which inspired the song here and learn more about Mary’s work as a writer, researcher and musician at www.maryhumphreys.co.uk.

12) Gerry Jones: The Liverpool Lodger [Trad/Jones]
Gerry wrote his own tune for the ballad’s original 1849 lyrics, and accompanies himself on accordian as he sings it on the Soundcloud link above. You can read about the real family murder which inspired the song here.

13) The Jetsonics: Cruel Lizzie Vickers [The Jetsonics]
The band took Lizzie’s original 1853 ballad sheet as a jumping-off point, then wrote their own music and lyrics telling her tale. The result is our first full-on rock treatment for a GBP song: tight, powerful and with a very catchy chorus. You can learn more about The Jetsonics on their own website and read the true story behind Lizzie’s crime and punishment here. PLUS: Watch the band perform Cruel Lizzie Vickers live at The Scream Lounge in Croydon on this YouTube clip or in their own official video for the song here.

14) Rick Marsland: The Ballad of Jones & Harwood [Trad/Marsland]
Rick added his own tune to the ballad’s original 1851 lyrics, and then accompanied himself on guitalele as he sang it. You can hear the result – along with lot’s more of Rick’s music – at the Soundcloud page linked above. Read about the real murder which inspired the song here.

15) Alan Rosevear: The Horrid Murder [Trad, arr Alan Rosevear]
This is the song I’ve been calling The Murdered Maid, but Alan’s reverted to its original ballad sheet title here. The tune he’s used comes from another old murder ballad called Bruton Town. The link above will take you Alan’s performance on Soundcloud, or you can watch him singing it on YouTube here. The True Crime story behind the song is on this PlanetSlade page.

16) South County: The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs [Gierer]
South County's George Gierer has taken the original 1853 ballad sheet as a starting point, but written his own tune and lyrics from scratch. The solo demo he originally sent me has now been replaced by this full-band version, with second guitar, melodica and added female vocals bringing a whole new level of mournful atmosphere to the song. You can hear more of South County’s music at the band’s own website, and read the true murder story which inspired this ballad here. PLUS: Watch South County perform the song live on YouTube as a demo with their core trio here, or live on stage with the full band here.

17) Kim Caudell: The Murdered Maid [Trad/Caudell]
Kim adds her own tune to the original 1832 ballad sheet's lyrics, singing them unaccompanied just as the sheet's first buyers must have done. To hear more of the music Kim makes with her partner Paul, please visit the couple’s own site. For the full story behind the ballad, head for the PlanetSlade page here.

18) Fred Smith: The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs [Trad/Smith]
Fred’s written his own music for the 1853 ballad sheet’s original lyrics, and added a couple of his own lines to the chorus too. You’ll find more of Fred’s music – including tracks from his excellent 2012 Dust of Uruzgan CD - at www.fredsmith.com.au. For the true crime story that got Mobbs hanged in the first place, please go here.

19) Doc Bowling & Sons: The Monster [Trad/Bowling]
Doc’s normally to be found fronting London band The Blues Professors, but here he's working with his sons Samson and Johannes to give Mary Arnold The Female Monster a soulful, jazzy work-out. The trio took the original 1843 ballad sheet's lyrics as their starting point, adding their own music on keyboards and sax. You can read the story behind the ballad here. For more information on Doc Bowling & The Blues Professors, please visit the band's Facebook page.

20) The Gallows Ballads Project: Soundcloud set [Jan 2013]
Click the link above to hear all the GBP tracks so far, lovingly assembled into a single 87-minute “album”. If new contributions keep coming in – which I hope they will – I’ll add a Volume II compilation here in January 2014. Maybe we can even make in an annual event?

21) The Blues Professors: Mary Arnold [Trad, arr Ben Bowling]
Doc Bowling again, this time with a very different take on Mary’s tale. He’s playing here with a slimmed-down version of his regular band The Blues Professors, comprising Doc himself on guitar and vocals, Sophie Loyer on violin and Roger Chapman on cajon. The tune he’s chosen is borrowed from St James Infirmary Blues, and I recorded the performance at a pub gig near King’s Cross on April 25, 2013. You can watch some YouTube footage of the same performance here, read the story behind the song here, and learn more about the band on Facebook.

22) Patrick Rose: Murder at Westmill [Trad, Rose]
Patrick recorded this unaccompanied version of the ballad as his entry for Islington Folk Club’s Trad2Mad 2013 competition. The link above takes you to the YouTube footage of him performing it. You can hear more of Patrick’s music on his Bandcamp page here. For a downloadable audio recording of Patrick’s Westmill Murder, please visit this Soundcloud page.

23) C#Merle: The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs [Trad/Merle]
C#Merle adds his own tune to this 1853 ballad's original lyrics, performing the song on one of his rather beautiful home-made instruments. He's also tackled 1829's Streams of Crimson Blood, details of which you’ll find below. To see more of C#Merle's instrument-making skills and hear him play some more tunes, please visit his Handmade Music Clubhouse page. You can read the true crime story behind Nathaniel Mobbs' execution here.

24) C#Merle: Streams of Crimson Blood [Trad/Merle]
C#Merle puts his own tune to the ballad’s original 1829 lyrics, giving the song a reggae treatment complete with a DJ toast in the middle. Again, he’s using his own hand-crafted instruments for the recording. You can hear more of C#Merle’s music – this time working as Meh229 – on SoundCloud. For the real facts which inspired Streams of Crimson Blood, please visit the song’s own PlanetSlade page.

25) Steve Byrne: Poor Daft Jamie [Trad/Byrne]
Steve Byrne of the great Scottish folk band Malinky sang his own setting of this 1829 ballad to cap off my talk at 2014’s Edinburgh Festival. The day’s events were all themed round Burke & Hare, who murdered Jamie and 14 other vagrants in the city back in 1828. You can read my talk here, or watch a YouTube video of it with its accompanying slideshow. For more of Steve’s music, please visit: www.stevebyrne.co.uk.

26-31) meh229: The Old Baby Farmer EP [All songs Trad/meh229]
The band tackle no fewer than six of our gallows ballads tracks on this Bandcamp free download of their new EP – and a fine example of their imagination and versatility it is. The six songs are: The Unnatural Murder; Dr Palmer; The Old Baby Farmer; The Murdered Maid; Jones and Harwood and The Liverpool Lodger. You can find links to all the true stories underpinning these ballads here.

32) Clear Spot: The Gallows Ballad Project [Resonance FM, October 31, 2016].
This London radio station broadcast my one-hour documentary on Halloween – which seemed well-suited to its grizzly content. In the programme, I play many of the tracks above and canter through the true crime stories which inspired each one. Click the link to hear this full programme archived on Mixcloud.

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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 three of the songs have already made it into the contributing band’s live set. The Jetsonics gave us our first commercial release by including Cruel Lizzie Vickers on August 2013’s EP Four, and I dare say a couple of the other tracks will make that leap in due course.
   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