Manchester Histories Festival

Edward II ft. Jennifer Reid: Manchester’s Improving Daily Album Launch

Friday 4 March 2016

On Thursday 18th of February audiences were treated to performance in the very special surroundings of the new performance space at Manchester Central Library by the Manchester based reggae band Edward II alongside Jennifer Reid. 

Once signed to Cooking Vinyl, Edward II are known for their extensive international touring, presented their new project ‘Manchester’s Improving .

RagbagThe band have taken a selection of songs from the book by Harry Boardman and Roy Palmer called ‘The Manchester Ballads’, which in turn are a selection of Broadside Ballads published in Manchester during the Industrial Revolution (and now held at Manchester Central Library).  They have re-worked the songs into their own unique contemporary urban style drawing on reggae rhythms and harmonies, combined with folk instrumentation, placing the songs in a modern context and bringing back to life the words of songwriters long gone.  

The Manchester Ballads was originally published with financial help from the education offices at Manchester City Council, and was produced in a handsome hardback card case, and is in the form of a folio collection of loose- leaf facsimile prints of the original penny broadsheets. There is accompanying text with many of the ballads, giving the biography of the song and, where necessary, a glossary of dialect terms. There are tunes suggested to allow the ballads to be sung communally in pubs and at home, and whilst penny broadsides were produced in the hundreds, many were written to be sung to well known tunes. The impoverished audience would, with few exceptions, have no ability to read music  and many would also be totally illiterate, only learning the songs through the oral tradition of singing in pubs, at markets and in local homes.

The Manchester Ballads are, in essence, a snapshot of Mancunian life in the industrial era. However, they are a snapshot from a very selective source, and the themes, events, places and characters that are outlined within the lyrics of the ballads should be seen in the context not only of their chance survival, but also of the reasons for publication.

The themes in the Manchester Ballads speak of struggle Edward II with candles(The Spinners Lamentation 1846), poverty (Tinkers Garden 1837), civic uprisings (The Meeting at Peterloo 1819) and communal tragedy (The Great Flood 1872). However, they also recall good nights out (Victoria Bridge on a Saturday Night 1861), day trips around the region (Johnny Green’s Trip fro’ Owdhum to see the Manchester Railway 1832) and the various innovations and achievements of industrial Manchester are mentioned, and praised, throughout.

The songs highlight both the enormous progress made over the last two hundred years which is to be expected, however what is perhaps more of a surprise is the commonality of humour, irreverence, love, talent and intelligence which undoubtedly connects most profoundly with a modern audience.   

This one off event celebrated the launch of the CD, and all attendees received a signed copy of the CD as well as an opportunity to see a selection of the original broadside collection.  

With thanks to Gavin Sharp, Chief Executive Officer of Band on the Wall and member of Edward II for this blog post.

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