The Crooked Spire, Coming Next Week

The music made from my book, The Crooked Spire, set in Chesterfield in 1360 is set to open next week, and very aptly, it will be in Chesterfield.

You’ll probably have come across me rabbiting on about it, but yes, it’s a murder-mystery musical. Unlikely, I know, but from the little I’ve seen, it works.

Last month, some of the cast went out in town and performed some of the songs and tunes. Yes, they are in costume.

Rehearsals are underway, as you’d hope. Here are some of those actors and behjind the scenes people talking about the show.

Finally, for those who’ve never had chance to visit Chesterfield, one of the cast takes you up in the tower and gives you a glimpse up into the spire. Remember, it’s only held on by its own weight.

I’ll be there for the Saturday matinee – I’m eager to see it – and I’ll be taking part in a Q&A afterwards. You should probably come along.

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).

The Songs Of Leeds

A chance remark of social media about Dick Turpin, that famous highwayman, led me down a ‘Swift Nick’ Nevison rabbit hole (what do you mean, you’ve never heard of him? He did many of the things credited to Turpin: read about him here).

Eventually – by a twisted process – that landed me at Holroyd’s Collection Of Yorkshire Ballads, published in 1892. Given that there are so few folk songs involving Leeds, I wanted to take a look.

It yielded five. To be fair, most of them could have related to so many places. Some are very dark indeed, others tearful, and one – the only one that really looked like it may have been written about Leeds – was light hearted. And they’re not really ballads as we think of them. They’re mostly poems, not written to be sung.

Still, anything like this involving Leeds is so rare that they’re worth a look. It’s niche, I know, but strangely interesting.

Some (like The Leeds Tragedy) are from broadside ballads, rustled up and published as a quick response to a tragedy and sold on the streets for a penny. The pop songs of the day before the music hall really took off.

Some are very much cautionary tales, wildly dnetimental, like this piece about a factory girl, eivdently copied from the Leeds Times.

The Leeds-based Victorian folk song collector, Frank Kidson, bought broadsides and kept them in an album. Some of those are far more Leeds-centric than the pieces in Holroyd (The Leeds Tragedy occurs in both).

I’ve written about the Kidson broadsides before, in more detail. It’s here if you want to take a look.

And for good measure, let’s finish with a tune – decidedly to do with Leeds, that Kidson mentions in Old English Country Dances being played in Leeds as early as 1820. Presented in two versions.