Ahead of Edward II coming to Band on the Wall on 23rd April, we spoke to saxophonist and bandleader Gavin Sharp about their latest project, in which they are re-arranging and recording a variety of songs, composed during the Industrial Revolution, and concerning the people and communities of Salford and Manchester. Edward II continue to reveal, in instalments, the songs, manuscripts and historical documents related to them; the latest one being their wonderful interpretation of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Dirty Old Town’, which you can hear on Soundcloud.
How did you first discover these songs, and at what point did you decide that they were to become the next project for Edward II?
Tim Chatterton, the creative learning programme coordinator at Band on the Wall and Brighter Sound came into the office one day holding a copy of ‘Manchester Ballads’ by Harry Boardman and Roy Palmer. The book is a collection of photocopied street ballads, or ‘broadsides’ as they used to be called, which he thought might be of interest. I took it home and started working through the songs, realising that they were in fact a great record of the history of Manchester, captured through the eyes of various musicians and songwriters. This provides a truly unique perspective for each song.
Was it difficult to arrange these songs for the full band, or did the original manuscripts suggest which parts to give to which instruments, and how to structure the finished tracks?
The manuscripts give very little detail, as the main broadside is just lyrics which would have been set to a popular melody of the day. The authors of ‘Manchester Ballads’ have conducted research into the most likely melody, or will have interviewed people who may have heard the song, but it is only a melody and no chords or other details. However, the main challenge has been to re-arrange the songs into a modern structure with verses, choruses and breaks, as the originals were largely just rolling verses, with no real chorus section at all.
The themes of these songs remain relevant today, and act as a reminder of the sacrifices made, and the hardships faced by industrial workers. Has this period of time always interested you, and did has the subject matter of the songs taught you anything new about the time?
I can’t say I have had a real academic interest in the history of the time, but for me it is more about connecting with the people and the voices of the musicians and songwriters, from what is now a completely different world. It is true that these songs remain relevant, but it is also true that we really have come a long way from the hardships endured by our ancestors. I have thought about my grandfather, who was killed in an industrial accident when my Dad was young, and I think that it is important to remember that our current, and often lambasted, Health & Safety laws originally came out of a need to protect workers from effectively being killed or maimed by their bosses, which was certainly the case at the start of the Industrial Revolution.
You’ve been recording the new material at Blueprint Studios, was it enjoyable to record a new project having not done so for a long time?
It has been really great, if there is anything I miss about being a professional musician it is working in a professional studio. It has been a real pleasure and Tim and the team at Blueprint have been fabulous to work with.
What are your ambitions for the project once all recordings are completed, do you wish to present the project to people in a certain way?
The main aim is to create the narrative on the Facebook Page and surround the music with contextual material, which concerns the music and the people who made it. We are trying to get more people involved in the project to help out and everyone we have talked to who has knowledge or experience of the history and content has been really very helpful. I am not sure if it will be just a CD, we have talked about releasing it with an interactive map, or a book, or even a newspaper style publication with all the stories and songs in it.
You play the new material live for the first time at Band on the Wall in April, is playing the songs live as a group an exciting prospect?
Exciting and scary, as we have a lot of work to do and not much time to do it! However, we were once called the busiest band in the world and have plenty of experience, so I’m sure it will all come together.