By Alex Gallacher
Last year, two album compilations were released by Broadside Hacks (pictured below), a London-based collective and record label which initially formed as a folk night until the pandemic forced it to change its shape, morphing into a collective of young, like-minded musicians who met to play folk music in South London. Their debut album, Our Singing Tradition Vol. 1, and the following critically acclaimed Songs Without Authors Vol 1 (praised by The Times as a “superb collection” and tipped as folk album of the month by The Guardian) featured a wide collection of artists including some we’ve featured on Folk Radio UK over the years such as Molly Linen, Katy J Pearson, Junior Brother, Lankum, Yorkston Thorne Khan, Blaenavon, Shovel Dance Collective, Brigid Mae Power, Rosa Zajac. There were some stunning re-imaginings, injecting fresh life into songs whose original authors have been lost in time. They included ‘The Burning of Auchindoun’ by Rosa Zajac (about to tour with John Francis Flynn) & Daragh Lynch (of Lankum).
Besides being great albums, what also made these releases so exciting was the collective vision behind them. It felt like a turning point, with the names involved adding genuine weight to their conviction – some of whom will not be that well known – e.g. Shovel Dance Collective (top main image), who I only became aware of via Jacken Elswyth’s excellent Betwixt and Between tape series.
Broadside Hacks describe themselves as a new collective derived from a group of like-minded musicians with a wild and lustrous curiosity for traditional, radical folk heritage. While the pandemic may have been instrumental in turning thoughts into action, it feels as though this moment of reinvention has been bubbling away for some time. The open-minded actions of this collective and others has the potential to inspire many more young people and encourage a more inclusive folk scene. This isn’t happening in isolation, and that’s something which actually adds to the impetus behind this collective. In a recent Folk Radio UK guest post from George Sansom and Sophie Crawford, they spoke of their Queer Folk project in which they are unearthing LGBTQIA+ history hidden in traditional music. They also spoke of how they were becoming more aware of LGBTQIA+ folk performers and a burgeoning out queer presence on the audience side of things. There are strong parallels with Shovel Dance Collective who played on the album and feature in the documentary.
Broadside Hacks believe the old songs can still be relevant – that in the ancient melodies and words about past times can be found truths about today. If you want proof, revisit one of the albums that introduced them to folk – Liege and Lief – and hear songs that could be drawn from today’s headlines, about honour killings, about class, about lives forced into certain directions for want of the choices wealth brings. In 2021, to so many people, folk just means “someone with an acoustic guitar”. Songs Without Authors is not that: it is music rooted in a place that has grown to encompass something universal.
Broadside Hacks have been gathering force and influence, having recently made their Glastonbury Festival debut. Their story will now be shared thanks to a collaboration between them and British Underground with the screening of a new documentary – The Broadside Hack at Kings Place, London, on the 25th August. Alongside the documentary will be a live performance by the acclaimed collective, as well as Shovel Dance Collective. An accompanying live album of the songs performed in the film will also be released on vinyl on 28th October (pre-order here).
The Broadside Hack tells the story of the young vanguard of UK artists sharing radical interpretations, proto-feminist narratives and queer histories through the lens of British traditional folk song. Today we get our sneak preview, courtesy of the Shovel Dance Collective‘s performance of ‘My Husband’s Got No Courage In Him’ that appears in the documentary
Having enjoyed its US premiere at SXSW in March, The Broadside Hack is a short music documentary produced by British Underground, created with the aid of a grant from Arts Council England and PRS Foundation. Directed by Crispin Parry and filmed by The Northern Cowboys, It explores the influence of traditional folk songs on a new generation of musicians, filmed just as the UK was emerging from the dark days of the pandemic. The documentary was made in collaboration with music collective Broadside Hacks and features influential artists and groups from the new folk scene, including Rough Trade signees caroline, former Goat Girl bassist Naima Bock, whose acclaimed album Giant Palm was released on Sub Pop earlier this year, Shovel Dance Collective, Thyrsis, Broadside Hacks and Boss Morris. Discovering a fresh vitality in the tunes and new histories in the stories they tell, the film includes conversations, dances and intimate performances filmed at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Box, Wiltshire between 17th and 19th August 2021.
Speaking about the album and documentary, director Crispin Parry says: “The sessions were electric and full of joy and The Broadside Hack captures some of that journey through performance, dance and conversation. An archaeologist once said ‘Every age has the Stonehenge it deserves or desires’ and the same could be said of folk music today – forever re-inventing itself as this wonderful recording of ancient tunes, songs and hidden stories reveals.”
The live concert and screening of The Broadside Hack arguably marks the close of the first chapter in the story of the UK’s new folk scene, a story in which Broadside Hacks has been central. As the documentary, their three further LPs and recent performances at Glastonbury and SXSW demonstrate, this is only the beginning for this exciting and ever-expanding collection of artists.