projects | the broadsheet ballad
The broadsheet (or broadside) ballad was a 16th century printed ballad and an early precursor to modern newspapers that spread stories and news through folk verse and traditional song.
Printed cheaply on rudimentary presses, this simple, single-sided sheet would carry verses on popular topics, from bawdy humour, sensational myths, to early journalism, or political and religious propaganda. The ballads were set to a well-know popular song and sung collectively at fairs, in taverns or local gatherings as a cheap way of spreading news throughout the regions. They were produced in large quantities and sold for a few pennies by travelling salesman or balladeers.
Apparently news travelled faster this way, through easilly hummed song: a bit like John Humphreys showing up at your local pub, singing Today Programme segments to the tune of Perry Como’s Magic Moments. I imagine.
Intrigued by the broadside and curious to see how it could be interpreted in modern performance, for the opening show of the 2009 festival we teamed up with independent, husband and wife publishers The Henningham Family Press to celebrate this folk form in music and on paper.
Ping and David Henningham set to work with musician Jon Bilbrough to write a new song especially for the evening. Setting up a print-shop within the art and performance lab that is Stoke Newington International Airport, the night became a frenetic performance and printing extravaganza. A homemade musical notation, this was printed live on the ballads which were then passed in front of Jon to play as they went by. On a washing line, over the heads of the audience.
The effect was to create a dramatic and unique folk performance, and also a limited edition publication on the night.