More Leeds Songs

The last blog post about Leeds songs generated a fair bit of interest, more than I’d expected for something so niche. And my curiosity was piqued, too. Were there others out there?

A conversation between a couple of people regarding that previous blog post highlight the song Beneath The Dark Arches. It’s a broadside balled, one that was published during the 19th century (mentioning bobbies, for instance, and the Dark Arches themselves, which were built for one of the railways stations here). But a warning to young men looking for women, and which played to the dangerous reputation of the place.

As it happens, yes. One that I’d forgotten, given a mention in Frank Kidson’s book, Traditional Tunes, about the cock fight on Holbeck Moor (many, many years before the famous Battle of Holbeck Moor in 1936). There are supposedly other versions where it takes place on Hunslet Moor; either way, it’s very much a Leeds song, this one even with a tune.

The third is the real oddity The Virgin Race is about a race at Temple Newsam Green in Leeds. To qualify, the participants had to be female and virgins. The first three finishers over two miles received prizes of silver (spoon, bodkin, thimble). The fourth won nothing at all. The winner, named Nan, also apparently won a race against a man named Luke from Basinghall Street (Bassing-hall) in the middle of town, and “at something else she’ll beat him, too.” No idea as to the song’s origins, and whether any race like that happened. But it makes for a cracking song.

Andd I’ll finish by reminding you that the third in the Simon Westow series, titled To The Dark, will be published in the UK on December 31. It was originally due a week ago, but with the pandemic…anyway, now it will see in 2021. You can pre-order from plenty of places, including the one named for the big river in S. America. But Speedy Hen appears to be the cheapest (and free postage, wink wink).

Frank Kidson And The Music Of The Tin God

This week. This week. Finally, The Tin God will be out. It feels like forever since I sent the manuscript to my publisher, then went through it with the editor. And now it’s happening. Doesn’t matter that I’ve been through it all before, I’m excited. This book means so much to me.

Not just because it’s about women’s rights, although that’s the central focus. But there’s also music in there; the lyrics from folk songs are the clues, one of the threads in the book. I’ve used folk music before in my novels, but only passing references. Things were more overt in my Dan Markham books, with Studio 50 and 1950s jazz, and in the two Seattle books, where grunge – a hated name – and alt-country were central ingredients.

But the traditional folk of The Tin God gives me chance to bring in someone I’ve wanted to involve in my books for a long time – Frank Kidson. He was a real man who had an unusual companion, his niece, Ethel (whose real name was Emma). Kidson was a man fascinated by several things – art, Leeds pottery, and folk songs. He was one of the first real song collectors and became known throughout the country, a pioneer well before those who received far more credit. He wrote several books, including the wonderful Traditional Tunes, which figures largely in my book, and wrote a column on songs for the Leeds Mercury.

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There were song collectors in different parts of the country in Victorian times, and they regularly wrote to each other and compared variations on songs. In the north, though, and certainly in Yorkshire, Kidson was a towering figure, one who developed theories about songs and how old they might be – actually, not as ancient as most people might imagine.

In the book, Frank and Ethel Kidson live at 128, Burley Road, their address at the time. A little later, they moved over to Chapeltown, to 5, Hamilton Avenue, where Frank died in the 1920s. A blue plaque sits on the house, quite deservedly commemorating one of Leeds’ great men.

kidson plaque

In 1923, to recognise his contribution to music, Leeds University awarded him an honorary M.A.

kidson MA

I put together a Spotify playlist of some of the songs from The Tin God. All traditional, and you can listen right here. Or – since Spotify barely pay artists for their work – I’ve also put together a playlist on YouTube.

Songs of all types interested him, including the popular broadside ballads, which were written, printed up, and sold on the streets, sort-of op ed/confessional/humorous take on life and current events. He bought them and saved some in a scrapbook, which is in the Family History Library at Leeds Central Library, and well worth a look.

One that isn’t in that collection, though, is How Five-And-Twenty Shillings Are Expended In A Week, which is a broadside:

It’s of a tradesman and his wife, I heard the other day,
Who did kick up a glorious row; they live across the way;
The husband proved himself a fool, when his money all was spent,
He asked his wife, upon her life, to say which way it went.

Chorus.
So she reckon’d up, and told him, and showed him quite complete,
How five and twenty shillings were expended in a week.

5 and 20

Kidson published a little of the song in Traditional Tunes. At the proper launch for The Tin God, which will be on Saturday May 5, 1pm, as part of The Vote Before The Vote exhibition, it will be performed by Sarah Statham, who was part of the glorious Leeds band, Esper Scout. Details right here.

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