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