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.

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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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2017, And My Year Ahead

So here we are, tiptoeing into 2017, casting a cautious eye at its possibilities, a little hopeful, a little wary that it might be more brutal than 2016. But the only thing my prognostications and the tea leaves are telling me is about the books I have coming up this year. Sorry I can’t help on lottery numbers or Grand National winners. I’m just not that good.

I write every day. I do it because it’s what I love and I have things to say. I’ve been lucky, so far at least, that publishers have wanted to put them in print and some people enjoy them. You have no idea how grateful I am for that.

I still have things to say, tales to tell. But there’s a strange alchemy that turns life into fiction, an odd transmutation. Late in February the fifth of my Tom Harper novels, On Copper Street,  comes out in the UK. Except that underneath everything, it’s not a Tom Harper book at all; that’s just the cloak it wears. Early last year, in the space of two weeks, I received news that three different friends had all been diagnosed with cancer. By then, 2016 was already whittling away at some of the icons of my generation. My friends, I’m pleased to say, are still here and seem to be doing well. But this book became my way to cope with it all, my way of understanding. Maybe even of accepting, I don’t know. It’s a way to reach down to the truth of it as it hits me, of that balance between life and death.

That, I know, probably doesn’t explain much. But for now, it’ll have to do. Oh, and if you’re especially eager, the best price for it seems to be here.

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This summer there’s the third, and last, Chesterfield book with John the Carpenter, The Holywell Dead. For a man who came to me in an instant on the A61, driving through Chesterfield, he feels to have been around a while. We still had a little unfinished business, I was aware of that. Not just him, but Walter, Katherine, Martha, even Coroner de Harville. Their stories had further to run. Not that much…maybe just enough. The limits of a small town and a man who’d rather work with wood than find murderers were closing in. And it ends, I hope, in a fairly apocalyptic fashion, bowing out on a high note. I’ve enjoyed my time in the 14th century with him, but we’ve walked as far as the fork in the road and he’s taken one path and I’ve trodden along the other.

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Then there’s my second – and again, last – visit with Lottie Armstrong in The Year of the Gun. I didn’t have a choice about it. She insisted. Her presence haunted me after I’d completed Modern Crimes, so that she had to come back. But the woman I visited again was older, in her forties, and experiencing World War II in Leeds. There was a vibrancy about her, so extraordinary by being ordinary. She had this other adventure to tell me about; all I had to do was listen and note it all down. But she wasn’t going to let me be until she’d finished the tale. As I said, the choice was taken out of my hands.

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And finally, in late November there will be Free from All Danger, the seventh Richard Nottingham book. It’s still unfolding, not quite all written yet. But I’ve known for a long time that Richard had more to say, and I’m glad he has the chance. By the time it appears, it will be four years since the last volume in the series.

I’m not a fan of endless series with the same character. It’s rare to be able to pull that off, although one or two writers do manage it with some depth. But as characters age, some edges get rounded, while others splinter a little and grow jagged and sharp. Some surfaces harden and other become softer. Those are the hallmarks, far more than the lines on the face or the lack of hair.

Richard has been away, but as he comes back it’s a chance to see how Leeds and the world has changed, and what his place in this might be. The old rubbing up against the new and how they can work together.

In many ways, Richard struck me early on as being like the straight-arrow sheriff in a Western, with his strong sense of good and evil. That changed somewhat over the course of the books, and the grey areas lapped so strongly into the black and the white. But coming out of retirement, how will he find everything now? Is he still sharp enough? More than that, where does he fit? And part of that is me, and my own sense of mortality, heavily tempered by the last 12 months, and the knowledge that new generations are shaping the world, while those of us who are older become more and more like bystanders, slightly out of time.

If the series had continued without a break, this wouldn’t have been the book I’d have written. So I hope that gap, that distance, has served us well.

Tom (and Annabelle, naturally), John, Lottie, Richard – they’re all as alive to me as anyone I talk to in a shop or over coffee. They’re friends, confidantes. And sometimes their books refract bits of the present into the past. Sometimes reflections of history, sometimes my own present, my thoughts and emotions. That transmutation that fiction can give.

And that offers a little background to the work of mine that’s appearing in the next 12 months. Of course, I hope they entertain, which is what they should do, and if they don’t manage that, then I’ve failed as a fiction writer. But there’s a backstory to each one, too, and maybe knowing it will offer a little more richness to the books.

What and How, And Especially Why

To all those who logged on Sunday for what was should have the world’s first streamed book launch, my sincere apologies. It ought to have happened. We had video – but the audio let everyone down. It was fine at soundcheck, it was fine an hour later. But on broadcast? Not a peep of sound.

I don’t know why. I tried everything I could, but nothing worked. But people stuck around, and we ended up with Two Bronze Pennies having what was certainly the world’s first book launch by instant messaging.

But…I still felt bad about it. So I sat down and made a little movie about the book. What caused me to write it, and how the world today all too often seems to sadly reflect the world of 1890. What a short, short way we’ve come.

It’s not long, only about six minutes. Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and sit down. Let me entertain you – and maybe make you think a bit. Oh, and if you really can’t get enough, further down is a link to a longer extract. And you can, if course, buy the book and read the whole thing. I certainly won’t mind if you do…

And this place offers free delivery worldwide:

http://www.bookdepository.com/Two-Bronze-Pennies-Police-Procedural-Set-Late-19th-Century-England-Chris-Nickson/9780727884916