THE HALLIARD - Broadside Songs (CD and book)

THE HALLIARD - Broadside Songs (CD and book)
Mollie Music MMCD04

A unicorn has galloped into my yard. For many of us, The Halliard has been a fabulous beast from the late 60s, famous for its association with Nic Jones but cursed with a discography which did little justice to its influential set of broadside songs. Now the legend snorts and canters around me: a 59-minute CD of old and new recordings backed up by a 44-page A4 book with lyrics and musical notation for the full repertoire. Now justice is done.

With its roots in Chelmsford Folk Club, The Halliard were Dave Moran on ebullient lead vocals, Nic Jones on guitar, and Nigel Paterson on mandolin. They wanted to deliver traditional urban songs to urban audiences. So they wrote their own tunes for neglected broadside songs sold in the streets in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Matching tunes and words produced a driving, syncopated style which wowed the clubs then and still sounds fresh now. Seven tracks were hastily recorded for a shared album with Jon Raven and sold on their farewell tour in 1968. That seemed to be that. Dave and Nigel got proper jobs. And Nic? You know what he did, though all but one of his classic solo albums are still unavailable on CD due to the wretched, interminable impasse with Celtic Music.

How to bring a legend to life after more than thirty years? Pass tapes and papers between Tasmania , where Dave now lives, and the UK . Get Nic’s redoubtable wife Julia to manage the project, and his son Joseph to play guitar. Bring in Ralph Jordan and John Dipper to play and produce. The result is a CD which welds those original seven tracks to ten new ones so successfully that you can hardly see the join. They include songs like ‘The Calico Printer’s Clerk’,’ Lancashire Lads’ and ‘Boys of Bedlam’ which became well known on the English folk scene, together with many lesser-known treats like ‘The Workhouse Boy’ whose unfortunate hero did so much for the Christmas soup.

The enduring skills and musical intelligence of Dave and Nigel shine through, but the attention is drawn inevitably to three of the newly recorded songs where Nic takes the lead vocal – ‘The Victory’, ‘The Durham Militia’, and ‘Bold Nevison’. This breaks the long silence that fell after his terrible injuries in 1982. I give thanks that it has happened and that he is in good voice. Some of the old authority has gone, but his natural ease and his gifts for phrasing and nuance remain. Joseph provides glorious, dad-like guitar accompaniment on these heart-stopping tracks.

John Bushby, another resident of Tasmania , has played a leading part in the accompanying book, by transcribing the words and tunes for 30 songs, each illustrated by a woodcut. It is a valuable and fitting resource which will help to keep these broadside songs alive. They lack the austere beauty of the older ballads but many have powerful lines, and they tell the story of their times with lessons for our own. The book also explains The Halliard’s history and splendidly idiosyncratic working methods.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 68 of The Living Tradition magazine.