02 Mar 23

Themes from the Broadsides

Hack-Poets Guild - illustrated image

Hack-Poets Guild is a new collaboration between three of the UK’s most innovative and prestigious folk artists, Marry Waterson, Lisa Knapp and Nathaniel Mann.

The artists release their debut album Blackletter Garland on Friday 10 March, followed by a live tour from 17-26 March.

The album is inspired by historic broadsides – daily song sheets sold for pence from the 16th to 20th centuries. The artists spent time at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, delving into the inky archives for inspiration.

The project brings historic broadsides vividly to life and offers a rare insight into Britain’s history.

Here we introduce you to some of the themes from the broadsides, which feature in the tracks on the album and that you’ll hear the artists sing on tour.

We filmed a fascinating discussion between musician Lisa Knapp and historian Steve Roud at the Bodleian Printing Workshop.

Discover more about Broadside Ballads ‘Cruel Mother’, ‘The Troubles of This World’, ‘Birds of Harmony’ and Daring Highwayman’, the songs that Lisa Knapp leads on the album. Click on the link below to watch this film on YouTube:

Watch film

Rare Receipts – led by Nathaniel Mann

Here the word “Receipts” means a recipe - so we have a recipe in the form of a song.

The original ballad lists ingredients which would be impossible to procure; Smoked Phoenix Eyes, Honey Squeezed from an Oak, Amber distilled from the air, which once combined create an elixier which would free the drinker from the gallows, and certain death.

Nathaniel says about his inspiration for this version:

“For Blackletter Garland I’ve re-written it, with a touch of inspirations from Puck’s Mid-Summer Night eyedrops; now we have a recipe for an impossible love potion. Which will cause whoever drinks it to “lay their heart” upon you. I love the idea of recipe songs - songs which would actually serve for caring recipes for baking or cooking…there aren’t many I know of…so this is a step towards that.”

Marry’s choices are a mixture of intriguing, humanist and dark stories. They are all set to tunes that Marry has composed.

Laying the Ghost – Marry Waterson

This song is fashioned from several accounts collected by Percy Manning in Stray Notes on Oxfordshire Folklore. 1913-14.

Marry says of the song:

“I love to know the origin of common phrases, often their meaning is lost throughout the years. These tales tell of people who were wronged in some way and upon dying, they walk again, haunting the community. It was said the spirits could be 'read down' till they were small, put into a box and laid to rest in a body of water, but if the water ever dried up, they would rise again.”

Ten Tongues – led by Marry Waterson

This song is about a man who was tried and hung on a jibbet on 2 March, 1785, for robbing and attempting to murder.

It is said that when the flesh dropped from his bones with constant exposure to the weather, the top of the skull fell in, and some birds built their nests in it and hatched out eight young ones. The following rhyme was made about this: Ten tongues in one head, One went out to seek for bread, To feed the living in the dead.

Marry says about the song:

"I was so fascinated to find this story - it inspired the song 'Ten Tongues'. New life springs from a dark death...I found this story at the Bodleian Libraries in 'Stray Notes on Oxfordshire Folklore'."

Hack-Poets Guild

You can watch the music videos from the forthcoming album on our tour event page and see all the March 2023 live tour dates at the link below.


For further reading about Broadsides, visit the Traditional Song Forum website.