The term 'Broadside Ballad' is here used to designate any song — narrative or otherwise — which made its first appearance on the penny or halfpenny sheets.
The songs which make up these two albums do not, for the most part, have much in common with the Traditional Ballads.
Professor Child has characterized the broadsides as "veritable dunghills", and for three hundred years contemptuous literary men have castigated the authors of these 'vile ballads'; and yet even the most awkward of their verses has its occasional flash of humour, its sudden, brief flicker of light, making the dead past live again for a moment. If our view of the past, occasioned by these momentary illuminations, is sometimes an oblique one, then it is none the less interesting on that account.
The broadsides flourished from 1500-1700, that is until the first cheap books began to make their appearance. By the beginning of the 18th century, the black-letter ballads had virtually disappeared.
The White-letter productions, however, persisted until the mid-nineteenth century, and indeed, even today it is not unusual for one to be accosted in the London streets by a 'soft touch man' who in return for a shilling will slip you an envelope containing a miniature photostat copy of a ballad dealing with the 'Loss of the Royal Sovereign' in World War II, or with the 'Sinking of the Scharnhorst'.
In the days before TV, radio and newspapers, the broadsides helped both to mould and reflect public opinion; their authors acted as political commentators, journalists, comic-strip writers, P. R. men for both parties, and for all those ambitious placeseekers who could afford to hire a pen.
That they were popular with the masses, no one can doubt; that they were unpopular with the establishment is born out by successive acts of legislation against 'pipers, fiddlers and minstrels' and by the many repressive laws directed against them both in England and Scotland.
In 1574 (in Scotland) they were again branded with the oprobrious title of vagabonds and threatened with severe penalties; and the regent Morton induced the Privy Council to issue an edict that "nane tak upon hand to emprint or sell whatsoever book, ballet, or other werk" without its being examined and licenced under pain of death and confiscation of goods.
In August 1579, two poets of Edinburgh, (William Turnbull, Schoolmaster and William Scot, notar, "baith weel belovit of the common people for their common offices") were hanged for writing a satirical ballad against the Earl of Morton, and in October of the same year, the Estates passed an act against beggars and "sic as make themselves fules and are bards ... minstrels, sangsters, and tale-tellers, not avowed in special service by some of the lords of parliament or great burghs."
Seventy-five years later, Captain Bentham was appointed provost-marshall to the revolutionary army in England, with power to seize upon all balladsingers, and five years after that date there were no more entries of ballads at Stationers' Hall. The heat was still on a century later and in July 1763, we are told that "yesterday evening two women were sent to Bridewell by Lord Bute's order, for singing political ballads before his lordship's door in South Audley Street".
Even in the mid-nineteenth century the attacks on the ballad-mongers continued, though by this time the fraternity was somewhat reduced in size; yet it was still sufficiently large for the owners of factories and workshops like the Vulcan foundry of Newton-Le-Willows, Cheshire to deem it necessary to issue the following warning on a cast-iron notice board: TAKE NOTICE. PRIVATE PROPERTY.
We do hereby caution all HAWKERS, RAG AND BONE DEALERS, BALLAD SINGERS & From trespassing on these premises. Any person or persons of the above description found hereon after this notice will be prosecuted with the utmost rigor of the LAW. VULCAN FOUNDRY MAY 1st. 1835.
They have departed now; it is no longer necessary for the authorities to brand "bardis and balletsingers" on the cheek and scourge them through the streets. The descendents of Elderton, Deloney, Johnson, Munday and Martin Parker now work for the establishment, as the hired men of television, radio, the press and Tin Pan Alley; they have learned how to write without offending anybody or anything, except, occasionally, one's sense of the ridiculous.
The broadsides were, for the most part, sung on the streets and in the taverns of Britain's cities. If they had accompaniments at all, these would probably have been of a most rudimentary nature. To have presented them in these albums with the sophisticated virginals and lute would have been as incongruous as arranging the St. Louis Blues for the serpent and three Alpine horns. It is much more likely that instruments such as the pipe and tabor and fiddle were used. For this present recording we have made no attempt to provide "authentic" accompaniment. We have used instead the concertina, the guitar, the ocarina, flute, piccolo, tin whistle, autoharp, tabor and, for two songs, the banjo; all of them instruments which have been widely used by street singers of our own time.
Notes by EWAN MacCOLL
The Female Frolic — Rollins sets the date of this very popular broadside ballad at "about 1690". It continued to be popular throughout the eighteenth century and Logan's 'Pedlar's Pack' includes a reprint of a stall copy bearing the date 1796. The Roaring Girls were favourite characters with the London street poets and at least one of these bobbed-hair bandits, Silva the female highwayman, has passed into the English tradition song repertoire.
From: the Pepys collection.
OR: An Account of a young Gentlewoman, who went upon the Road to rob in Man's Cloaths, well mounted on a Mare, etc.
Give Me My Yellow Hose — The tune to which this excellent song is set — Peg a Ramsey — is at least as old as Shakespeare's time. In Twelfth Night, act II sc. 3. Sir Toby Belch says: "Malvolio's a Peg-a-Ramsey. . . ", and Thomas Nashe mentions it as a dance tune in 'Have with you to Saffron-walden' 1596.
Burton, in his Anatomy of Melencholy, 1621, quotes a stanza of the Yellow Hose text and makes the following comment: "So long as we are lovers, we may kiss at our pleasure, nothing is so sweet, we are in heaven as we think; but when we are once tied and have lost our liberty, marriage is an hell. 'Give me my yellow hose again'. A mouse in a trap lives as merrily. "
From: Evans' Old Ballads.
A King and No King — William of Orange entered London in December 1688 and, in the twelve months which followed, streets poets hailed 'the glorious revolution in a series of scurrilous songs and ballads directed against James II, his queen — Mary of Modena, the exiled papal nuncio, the Earl of Tyrconnel and the Irish rebels. Here, in typical goodnight style, James II laments his fate, as usual throwing most of the blame on 'Shuffling Mall' —his queen, and on Petre his one-time confessor. The tune was probably composed by Thomas Farmer for D'Urfey's popular stage song 'Sawney was tall and of a noble race'.
From: the Pepys collection.
OR: King James's Wish. Being an Excellent New Copy of Verses, of the Never to be forgotten by his Unholiness the POPE, our late King James. Sent in a Letter to that Damn'd Cursed Whore of Babylon, who is Harlot to Antichrist, Dutchess of Hell, and Countess of Purgatory. Translated out of Irish into French, by the Pretended Prince of Wales, and Englished by his supposed Mother, The Italian Dutchess.
Constance Of Cleveland — The ballad of Constance of Cleveland was entered at Stationers' Hall on June 11th 1603 to Wm. White as "Of the fayre Lady Constance of Cleveland and of her disloyal Knight". Collier, in his notes to the Roxburghe Ballads, points out that a play by Drayton, Munday and Hathway 'Constance of Rome' is mentioned in Henslowe's diary under the year 1600. 'Crimson Velvet', the tune to which the ballad is set, was, as Collier remarks, "Highly popular in the reigns of Elizabeth and her successor".
From: Collier's 'Roxburghe Ballads'.
Ewan MacColl is that rare combination of traditional and revival singer at one and the same time. Born in Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland on January 25, 1915 (on Bobby Burns' birthday) , MacColl learned most of his songs from his father and other members of his family, as well as from Scottish and English neighbors of childhood days. "My old man was the best singer I ever heard," he says. Unlike so many traditional singers whose music was kept alive in relatively isolated rural areas, the MacColl family was a product of the industrial age. His father was an iron-moulder who worked at his trade irregularly as a result of being blacklisted for trade union organizing activities. His mother, from whom he also learned many songs worked on and off as a charwoman in all the industrial cities of England and Scotland as the MacColls moved from town to town trying to escape the penalties of the father's trade union activities. One writer has called him the "Folksinger of the Industrial Age" During the 1930's, MacColl found himself in the burgeoning British workers' theater movement. His natural political inclinations, together with an instinctive flair for drama and song led him to the "agitprop" performing groups of the depression era whose stage was more often a street before a factory gate or a union meeting hall than a formal theater. In the years since then, he has become the leading presenter of folk songs on British radio and television, either writing or appearing in more than 50 different BBC programs. Song-writer, recording and concert artist (he has toured throughout Europe and Canada) , Ewan MacColl is a towering figure in the world of folk music.