In this episode of “What Dreamers Do,” host Carla Gover sits down with the talented and multipassionate Jennifer Reid, a researcher, presenter, educator, performer and provocateur.
In her lovely Northern Accent, we get a glimpse of Jennifer’s work, as she takes us on a journey through the various art forms that she uses to highlight working-class issues past and present and connect audiences to their heritage through the captivating world of Lancashire dialect songs. She even sings a sample of the North Manchester song “The Weaver of Wellbrook.” She sheds light on the importance of oral tradition in preserving and passing down these songs, with special attention to the rhythm of the hand loom that echoes through the music.
The conversation then delves into the broader context of ballads in industrialization-era slums and their societal roles as they evolved. Jennifer shares her experiences teaching art and music, and the joy she finds in live performances, adapting her set lists to match the atmosphere of the room.
We learn about Jennifer’s vast repertoire, and how she carries a box of 300 songs to cater to different preferences, even tailoring songs to specific locations. She touches on the healing power of live music as a form of medicine, and how she chooses songs for audience members based on their needs.
The conversation takes an intriguing turn as Carla and Jennifer discuss the fascinating world of street hawkers selling ballads, and the historical importance of these sellers in reminding Irish workers of home. We gain insights into Jennifer’s acting career, including her role in a critically acclaimed period drama directed by Shane Meadows featuring her improvisation of 1700s songs.
The two move on to discuss Lancashire clogging and singing, and Jennifer’s journey into 19th-century print culture while volunteering at Chetman’s Library in Manchester. We delve into the significance of folk ballads and using music as a powerful tool for social change. Jennifer shares stories, knowledge, and her knowledge about broadside ballads and the importance of preserving folk traditions.
The episode concludes with a sneak peek into Jennifer’s future plans, possible performances in the UK and the United States, and an invitation to visit her recently updated website for more information and music.
Post-Roll with information about the Appalachian Flatfooting & Clogging Academy
Carla Gover: Alright. Welcome dreamers. I'm really happy to be here today. Doing an interview, it's kind of strange, time for me because I'm sleep deprived. I've just flown across the Atlantic, and I have had very little sleep. And I am sitting a van with ballad singer and clogger Jennifer Reed from Northern Manchester, and we're gonna learn a lot more about all of the cool and interesting musical and dance related and ballad related projects that she does So thanks so much for being here with us and letting me hang out in your van today and interview you. Yeah. That's cool. Thank you for all the way across the Atlantic. Well, I'm I'm excited to be here. We are in Cambridge, by the way, home of a somewhat famous school. Mhmm. And it's really lovely, and it's interesting to be in this little home on wheels So maybe that would be a good place to start is just talking about, you know, how you came to live in this van and how that serves your creative life. Jennifer Reid: I used to live in a place called Togmuddin, which is now kind of up and coming with a lot of cool, good looking graphic designer types moving there, which may or may not have had something to do with the way I had to get out. love to have women for all it is, and I did some acting. Shane Meadows did a period drama, which is now critically acclaimed, I'm supposed to say all the time. It's based in the 1700s around the Craggvale coiners, which were a gang of was mainly a family, and then they had, like, other outlying members of the gang who used to clip coins, and they eventually almost flooded the economy of England. and the tax man came and kind of got them and hung all the main cool ones. So that's what the the drama is about. It's the gallows pole, and I was cast as the landlady, very luckily. And I made the landlady sing because it was all improvised. So I sing like 1700 songs. I musically directed the wake scene in the first episode. It's called the gallows poll, the the drama. So, yeah, you know, that furnished me with a little bit of cash -- Okay. -- to then up stakes to Sheffield and buy a van to live in. And then from then, I've just kind of been quite mobile. So if I get work, say in Preston, I can stop over in Preston for the night and then take a joint down to Cambridge, for example, to meet cool people and then, like, drive back in the evening, or it just means I've got a bit more flexibility, and it also means that I probably have to do more divorce now, which I am still coming to terms with the idea. Carla Gover: You're obliged to know. Yeah. But I love the fact that even though I know there are probably times when it's not easy to make a decision that bucks so many social norms, it seems like a really bold move in service of following your creative muse Mhmm. And that takes a lot of courage. So hats off. Thank you. About that. And it kind of speaks to something we were chatting about earlier in terms of how one thing that you and I have in common, and by the way, folks, we met over the internet, you know, mutual friends introduced us. Like, you guys need to know each other. And One of the things that we have in common as an interest is folk ballads, music of the people, music that's used as a tool for social change and social justice and the ways that we can uncover our history, cultural history, through studying the music. And so one thing that I thought you had some interesting thoughts about was the way that we now have a tendency to leave the singing to the Ultra ultra professionals when really singing and dancing and all of these folk traditions are meant for all of us to do them. Mhmm. So Do you do workshops? How do you approach that, or how do you address that in your performances and your teaching? So the people that I work with almost always have a diminished sense of identity, Jennifer Reid: whether that be just from living in the world that we're living in right now or growing up in it, everyone can find another aspect of their identity when I bring this material to them, the material in question. So Carla Gover: when Jennifer Reid: the material that I'm talking about is 19th century. Broadside ballads usually because they're quite visual as opposed to the songs in dialects, which are of the oral tradition, which are kind of mentally visual, but I need to kind of draw them in first. So this whole kind of print tradition is very handy because they've got woodcuts, the texts, kind of interesting when I speak about printing, my friend who's a printer has furnished me with quite a few printing facts and a few printing phrases. So that kind of makes it sound like I know what I'm talking about. And then when people use the songs that I put in front of them, so I usually try and prescribe them stuff. So if there's a woman from Olden, I'll say, okay. I've got 3 songs about Olden. What type of thing are you interested in? And she'll say social justice or, like, protests, like, around about the 1800s. So I'd be like, cool. I've got this perfect song for you. Or if they're just interested in daff stuff, I'll be like, here's one, an Odin chap visits the queen, and they get on like a house on fire. Everything were fun and glee and laughed at all I Towed him, and actually folk were all like me has happened to come from Odin. Apparently, that's what the queen said, and I doubt it. So people find themselves in these songs and then they start to get really interested. And then when they realize that they're allowed to sing them, that's when this stuff really takes shape. and it's just exciting. Carla Gover: Well, just because I think some of my listeners might not know, can you give a brief description of what is a Broadside ballad? Mhmm. A broadside ballad is, do you have blue roll in the United States? Jennifer Reid: That doesn't ring a bell. It's like kitchen roll for bars, but it's a blue color. I think I seen that. Do you have in toilets? Do you have, like, the blue long paper that you can, like, pull out of the think they have that more in the stations. Yes. Yeah. It's it's very low brow. Mhmm. So that kind of texture, bad toilet paper texture, almost see through and very rough, is pretty much what Broadside ballad paper was like. That's what they felt like. So they were by their very design and by their nature were not meant to last. So the that we have so many in collections in England and in America and loads of other places is quite amazing, but then of course we are always at the mercy of as for what they chose to preserve in their collections. Mhmm. So in Olden, for example, in the local studies library, there's loads of orange ballads, which obviously isn't very, you know, up everyone's street, especially with you going to Ireland. I'm sure they'd have something to say about So again, if you're not really interested in that and we're looking for a history of Olden, but then you've been kind of sidelined into this collector eye view. That's when you gotta be careful. So anyway, broadside ballads are usually around about a four size, maybe even double that. They have a title at the top. Sometimes it says as sung by someone, which is quite rare, or the printer's name. Sometimes the printer's name has been out so that the HOKA can sell it in other counties without being detected. We didn't sell so well in Manchester to scratch the printer's name out. When you get to Nottingham, just say it was printed this morning and see if it sells any so I appreciate the Delboy nature of a of ballads. It's very hit or miss. And then they've usually got around 12 to 18 verses. The old English ones from the 1600s are a bit longer, and I did once try to sing those hungover in the Bavlian Library and didn't get invited Would you believe it? But I can give you an example of a ballad if you would like. Okay. Sure. Yes. Send you just a little short one. and I've offered. Why am I offered? It's a good one. Maybe I'll do Victoria Bridge on a Saturday night. quite a good example for them, Sally. So, whoever they travel or Manchester gravel will see many things to respond as she's site, but sure he must notice whether his court is Victoria Bridge on a set tonight. Such running and rushing such jostling and pushing looters or babel had settled through spite, or Rodney to goad 1 or 2 keys aboard on Victoria Bridge on a Saturday night. If you're trouble with physics, their adopters with physics, their lozenges, policies, poppies, and pills, with ointment for drone, and Becky for Charing will blister your chopsy, red in the gills, There's snuffier noses and selfie at horses and poultry and pix pickle pork and police with porkers and fenders and newspaper vendors and strip for black puddings a penny apiece. that's kind of how they go. It reminds me of Gilbert and Solomon. Totally. Like, you can see where the music call comes in. That's right. And then it builds up into, like, celebrity, and then you totally lose folk art and traditions, and that's why we're put on earth to rectify that. Yeah. So this was a tradition that was born Carla Gover: as a folk movement, it was something that the people participated in, and it was something that everybody could be a part of and you didn't have to be on American Idol or whatever. Jennifer Reid: Yep. Yeah. I've seen them. Absolutely. The the song's written by mean, a lot of the Lancashire dialect poems were turned into songs because a lot of them were written just as poetry, but, there's fair few songs out of them as well. So, for example, I mean, I I'm searching for it in my book, but it's just a crutch animal up by her. So the weaver of Wellbrook, which is from North Manchester, fails with area. That's all about being a weaver, and it mentions, like, work dialect in it, and the kind of more in the oral tradition because this would have been passed down in that way, and it has the rhythm of the hand loom when you sing it. So that's kind of handy as well to keep you in on time, but also kind of adds to the, you know, the feeling you're getting because when it's the the oral tradition, it's all bodily and feeling based. When it's the print tradition in the city, you're overhearing it. You're on your way to work. You're busy with other stuff. You know, it's the start of, like, industrialization. It hits a bit differently than if you heard this, you know, down the pub on a Tuesday evening after handling weaving all day after seeing your wife for quite a bit and chatting and sorting and out and your kids came in, then you went to the pub. It's just a different more homely feeling, but the homely feeling was what was trying to be sold to people through the Broadside ballads when they went to the cities. to live in the slums with industrialization. Carla Gover: Yeah. So it began to get a little bit more cerebral with the broadside ballads versus like, the really visceral experience of the oral tradition. Mhmm. well, I like that you, you know, talking about the weaving cause I know that's something else that you focused on. Jennifer Reid: You are a weaver. Do I understand that correctly? I can weave. I do. I weave on it more like a a handheld loom. So they're more like a a five size little loom. Mhmm. I love to do workshops with people because you never know what's gonna come out. Some people just do straight lines and immediately I tell them, like, It's not made of glass. You can move it up and down and stuff. And then other people just get straight in there and put, like, pipe cleaners hanging off the end of it, and, like, sweets wrapping as it looks really cool. so it's interesting to see what abstract things people are are willing to share on on the loo. So do you do workshops that are a mix of music and weaving? Or They usually always work out that way because I can't help, but if we're weaving and then we're talking about weaving, and then I'll kind of like single weave in songs to just kind of on the lower end, let people cosplay being a weave On the higher end, invite people into their beautiful, visceral, amazing experience of being a weaver and singing weaving songs and all that comes with Carla Gover: So we know that you, you know, have this appreciation for, you know, bringing music to the people and eliminating the history and sort of the power to the people aspect of this kind of music. Mhmm. What are some of your other artistic goals, you know, that you have for yourself in whatever realm, whether it be Jennifer Reid: more acting or more more singing or more teaching, what kinds of things working on. So my hero is Fred Dibner. You ever heard of Fred Dibner? I don't think so. so he was a steeple Jack from Bolton, which means that he pulled down chimneys and, like, climbed up really high on top of buildings and stuff. And he ended up being, he was just like herself. I don't know. I don't know how self taught he was, but a lot of the language dialects authors were self taught, which is why I always ban that phrase about because I fancy myself as self taught as well. because it's more, I am total antiquarian, like, I'm a hobbyist in this, but I've become an expert just through -- Uh-huh. -- being obsessed with it. But Fred Dibner was essentially a steeple jack, and then he got his own TV show because people found him friendly. And then he ended up speaking the industrial revolution through, like, steam engines. I think he sunk a mineshaft in his garden. Like, he he was no joke. He was a great guy, really, funny guy. big hero in Bolton really has died now. but I kind of wanna be that person that you can't say that I don't know what I'm talking about, and I have I'd like I've I feel respected for all the time and effort that I've put in. and I just feel good about ballads. You know, I feel like I've dedicated my life to the right cause. I'm getting pretty well known with it, and it feels cool, but that's what I really appreciate that. Cause after I did the drama, trad folk, which is one of, like, the big magazines. I never really courted them, but again, again, why would I? Mhmm. And one of the guys, a guy called John Wilkes wrote about my performance in the gallows poll and wrote about all the songs that I chose and, like, the time period of it, and it was just so validating. I called him up personally to thank him. I just went, thank you so much. because I've you always feel like you're like imposter syndrome is rife, but it was really, really cool to, like, pack those anxieties into a little bag and go, only took 13 years to get rid of it. It was nice. Carla Gover: It is. Recognition Jennifer Reid: or validation for what you're doing, and and pure recognition is another one. I think that's the specially sweet. Yeah. Yeah. It's amazing. So I try and work in that respect. So I try and share what I can in terms of, like, workshops, singing, weaving, painting, clogging, banner making, all of the above, with children through to people with dementia, ballad to do singing with people with dementia my dad's got dementia, so I'm trying to surround myself with it as opposed to totally run away from it. It's important that I must face his head on to be the best that I can be for my dad. And then, yeah, clog in. I'd like to come to America. That is a big one for me. I wanna meet ballad singers in America. I wanna meet cloggers. I wanna meet flat footers. wanna meet everyone in America. Can you make that happen? Carla Gover: I can certainly help you. Which that we should speak a little bit about that. I haven't really haven't talked about your your dancing. So -- Mhmm. -- I'd be interested to hear Jennifer Reid: what got you into the Lancashire clogging conditions and and even the singing, like, if if it's something from your family or your community or how it all came about? Yeah. It's nothing to do with family or community at all. Okay. I just had it all Tinka's CD when I was younger, and I just got obsessed with it because it was just really, really funny and silly songs. And I thought these are fantastic. And then I went away to Barcelona. I came back, and then I volunteered at Chetman's Library in Manchester, which people know was like, the Harry Potter library because it looks like Harry Potter. But I think it's the 1st in lie it's either the 1st library in the English speaking world or the 1st English speaking library in the world. I can't remember which. it was set up in, like, the 1400s. So that's why it's got the Harry Potter Five, but it's a fantastic place. And Michael, who was the librarian at the time, he had a penchant for 19th century print culture. So as a result, he kind of indoctrinated me into the ways. So I just started digitizing some ballads, and then after that, I kind of got upset with them because I started to see place names come up and, you know, funny little bits of dialects. And I thought, oh my god. How have these been, like, trapped in this box for so long? And why is no one using them? You know? And, yeah, my dancing, so I learned from the Lancashire, while the person learned from harry cowgill in Fleetwood, a school in Fleetwood, I think, hired it out for the Wallupers weekend many, many years ago. And I just thought I needed another string to my bow. Like, I can sing. I could tap dance back in the day when I was younger. So Let's switch it into clogging, and then I can give people the full experience because I know that I can deliver quality. So let's do it. So then cost it cost like £50 to go to this session. Mhmm. I think it was over 2 days. And because I'm so tight, I practiced every single day for a year after that I learned it, and then now it's ingrained in my head and will never go away. So I got my money's worth is what I'm trying to say there, but I learned Sam Sherry's intermediate waltz the main 8 steps. I think there's 12 or 13 in total. I might be wrong on that, but I learned the main 8 are the ones that I consider the main 8. So contention clogging it. I don't know what to say. I don't wanna get it wrong. So, yeah, his his steps, he w he came to be, like, the head of, like, Lanc a clog in people's minds, but he wasn't necessarily from Lancashire, and he kinda grew up in the music hall tradition, but his name has become synonymous with that Lancashire Sam Carla Gover: So just a little bit of a clogging nerd out question here. Do you only do waltz clog, or do you do some 44. I have to. I only do Walt's clog, but that is a cry for help saying, please teach me other ways Jennifer Reid: because I learned that clogged dance so that when I went to Venice, I sang at the Venice Bee in 2015 and the opening week in the jardini, and I clogged danced and sang, and I thought, is really gonna, you know, it's such a rich, luxurious environment, and I wanted to bring everyone back down. And I made few people cry, which I would felt really good Carla Gover: Yeah. That's funny. That's what, that's like a songwriter or singer and artist. That's your mark of success. I made him cry. Yay. Which just sounds kinda crazy to say, but I feel that way too. Yeah. Well, another thing that we were talking about, which I think is interesting, and maybe it speaks to, like, gatekeepers of traditional culture and gatekeepers of those who think that traditional and folk music should be performed with a particular look in a particular way, but I know that you don't play to those stereotypes of what a ballad singer is, quote, unquote, supposed to look like. Folks, she's got some ink you know, she's just she's just a couple piercings. Very cool. Have looking. Jennifer Reid: No courses. Right? No. yeah, I don't wanna sing in a corset. Please, dear. God. Don't make me do period dress. God. I just think I just yeah. I'd kind of play on it now where I'm like, okay. I've come to you in full. period dress. You know, I'm wearing a the same clothes I've been wearing for 5 days, and it's just a charity shop pair of shorts and overpriced Tommy Hilfiger shirt and a little top that I found in a bag on the street. You know, it's nothing. Maybe that is I mean, that's quite a ballad singer of me, though, I suppose, minus the Tommy Hilfiger aspect. But yeah, I just try and be my authentic self, which is now a cringy Instagramable phrase, but I'm just trying to be like, my passion is is I can't it's undeniable. I can't help, but let it shine through. So if you don't leave my performance thinking that you've been harassed by a ballad singer, then I've lost it. But until now, I don't think I have. Carla Gover: Well, I think it's just you know, obviously, it's something that we deal with Abalachian musicians too, you know, a lot of times there's a certain look that people think that we're supposed to have or a certain kind of outfit that, you know, you're supposed aware. And maybe it's just that performers throughout history have always had to ask themselves some interesting questions about where do I draw the line between honoring the traditions that I learned and doing something that I can make a living at on stage. And, like, sometimes people even take it into the realm of self caricature. in order to make a living because sometimes that's what sells, unfortunately. Mhmm. And for me, it's always just like this interesting dance of, you know, authentic versus being yourself. And what does it all mean? But I you you mentioned something about some of the historical people who performed these broadside ballads. What did you call them? You had a name for them. Hawkers. The Hawkers. Hawkers. Yeah. So there's the the long song seller, which is in May Hughes Jennifer Reid: London, and he's got all the street hawkers in in the book and the the long song seller is the the ballad guy, and he's got, like, a top hat on. But, you know, when you see on cartoons where it's like a top hat, but it's as if you've undone like a kind of beans and that the flapping off at the top. Yeah. Uh-huh. That kind of thing. And, you know, he looks down on his look. He looks grumpy in the picture, and he's got like a big stick with a big toilet roll of ballads on here. If he pulls them down, and it says 250 for a party. And yeah, the hawkers themselves were very down at heel, you know, probably on the last legs, but the way that they were selling this to you meant that you came back to them. So they had a certain charm, which might not necessarily be their singing voice, but, you know, their themes that they were covering or where they stood or the tune they put to it, or, you know, the 3 tunes they just sang in succession over the past 3 weeks. Like, it could be literally anything. that really elevates their selling capacity. Cause again, ballads were made to be sold, you know, the the oral tradition songs they were made to be passed down and enriched life, and the ballads were, you know, overheard. Like, there's so many Irish ballads in the Manchester collections because of Angel Meadow, the slum, And so the the printers were trying to sell Irish ballads to Irish workers to remind them of home, you know, to kinda like, play on their heartstrings kind of thing. So again, like, the ballads of business, so they're a bit more devoid, but that's what makes the sellers so interesting because There's all these different contextual things going on, but then they're still stood on a street corner probably with one leg leaning on a bit of a crutch. singing out. I can't I hope a rude song. Carla Gover: It's it's really interesting. I feel like there's a whole entire other podcasts, we could have comparing some of these commercialization traditions, you know, dancehall, Vaudeville, menstrual see -- Mhmm. -- you know, some of the darker and more unsavory parts of the history of, you know, what came out of folk traditions -- Mhmm. -- in large measure, but have evolved into to so many other things. But like you, I also, just to bring it back home, really appreciate taken a peek at the roots, going back to the roots to what is sometimes extrapolation about the early history of the styles because for instance, in Appalachia where I'm from, I didn't even realize until I was in my teens that, oh, Part of this music is coming from the African American tradition because nobody ever talked about it. I mean, it's a banjo for crying out loud. The whole instrument came from Africa. And part of it came from Indigenous Native American traditions of of music and dance, but it kind of it wasn't talked about. And so when we go back now and we have to try to sort of piece it together, almost like musical archaeologists, but I I also love to examine these roots. And so, guys, I'm looking at this stack. She's got a box of ballads and these cool prints and old broadside and these old, you know, old prints from old presses and whatnot. So I hope that wherever you are, you'll get a chance to listen to her or see her perform, whether in the UK or in the United States, which there's rumor that you're gonna be coming in 2024. But if people wanna listen to some of your stuff or learn more you now. What's a good place? So my website, which I've just done up, all fancy shiny. Right? Jennifer Reid: so it's Jennifer ballads, dotcom. How hard is that to remember? And then I'm also on Instagram, and that's Jennifer Ballads with 2 s's I did have the original Jennifer ballads account, but then I forgot the password. So I had another s. I know I'm so stupid. I'm a branding nightmare, and that's got all pictures of my work shops. I've recently been lead artist for a plant pot festival making loads of sculptures out of plant pots, and I've felt flower pot I felt crazy after it. But finally, installed them all on Monday, and then it started raining, and I drove past kind of like with one eye open hoping all still be there and they're all still there. They haven't flown away or anything. So that's cool. so that's Instagram on I'm on Twitter as well as Jenny to read. I think my website's probably the best place. It's got all the best links and videos, and I'm on Spotify as well, but my recorded stuff on Spotify just I'm not pronouncing or recording as bad, but for me, it's all about the performance. It's all about being there. It's about assessing the vibe in the room. So about overhearing conversations at the bar and then changing my set list, like, five different times to accommodate everyone. You know? Like, there's a woman in Halifax talking about a canal boat, and that's why I bring, like, I've got my box of ballads. I've got maybe 300 songs in here. That's why I bring everything because then I can be like, oh, god, yeah, I'll do that song and she'll like it. You know, I'll say, oh my god. I overheard you say this. Look, I've got this song for you. Oh, where are you from again? I've got song from that. It's musical prescriptions. It's all musical prescription. Yeah. Yeah. You will feel better. Yeah. Yeah. You'll feel better after this. But, yeah, so the I've got recorded stuff on stuff on stuff if I is what I'm trying to say, but I also don't necessarily value recording as a medium at this current juncture. I'm much preferred form, but you can see videos of me online doing that. There's one of me in Preston Market, which we might get a kick out of. Nice. Carla Gover: Well, since the show is called what dreamers do, and it's about creativity and all of us funding our creativity. Do you have any kind of advice that you would give just about living a creative life because everybody does it differently. Jennifer Reid: Keep your red down and keep going. keep going all the time. Even when you feel like you're not doing out, you you are, you're doing it all. If you're not doing the outdoor work, you're doing the mental work, you're doing the undoing all that crazy, not it up trauma in your body work. You're doing it all the time. You just don't realize. And creativity, remember it's fun. I always have to remember that this stuff is fun. It's not work. It's not meant to be fun. Yeah. It's not work, really, is it? Like, I'm stressing out about Oh my god. On my plant pot installation, is it gonna last? Like for god's sake? It's hardly the stock market, is it? But I you'd yeah, when you get any creative haul, look after yourself. Do face masks. Do things like that that kind of like bring yourself worth up a tiny little bit. Give yourself a rest for 3 days where you think about absolutely nothing. Watch spongebob for 3 days on the trot and clear your brain. And then little things will start coming back to you and you'll think, right. It's it's just you've just gotta keep stopping and starting, but always remember that you're on with Carla Gover: I love it. Cool. I love it. Well, thank you so much. Mhmm. for the great advice and also for taking the time to chat with me and for driving all the way down and meeting me in a parking lot in Cambridge. And, hopefully, the next time we'll get a longer visit and we'll get to make some music Thank you guys for listening. Be sure to look up Jennifer, and we'll see you soon. Jennifer Reid: Bye.
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