Strawhead is a remarkable folk group from the north of England who have been providing their avid fans with a range of “popular music of the olden times” since their formation in 1974. The three band members have never turned “professional”, enjoying the freedom to choose where and when they play, as well as the opportunity to research and select the music which forms their repertoire.
“The selection process is mystical and always has been…we just play through the songs and things either work for the band as a whole or they don’t.”
In their day-jobs Chris Pollington is the head of music in a tertiary college, Malcolm Gibbons is an antique valuer, and Gregg Butler is an “unfrocked Captain of Industry now into consulting.” The creative process starts with a general agreement on what the latest project should be. Gregg, who maintains a database of broadsheet ballads, does much of the band’s initial research and sings through the tune to the others. The musical arrangement of selected songs may need little or a lot of work — “not many Parliamentarian Civil War songs or Pro-Monmouth tracks” are available out there. Thus Malcolm and Chris collaborate on the arrangement, and Gregg steps in to provide the strange instruments.
Songs of the Civil War was recorded in 1997 and is available on an extended cassette tape (roughly an hour each side). There are plans to convert the recording to CD format in the near future, but Strawhead already have a number of projects in hand: the most immediate is to finish recording a second batch of Victorian Ballads.
The 25 songs on the tape are examples of “hit songs” of the day which “may be sung by the modern re-enactor and will re-create the feeling of those far off times for both the performer and the listener.”
“[W]e invite you to join us in the thrilling years of the 1640’s, to sing the songs that England sang as Englishman fought Englishman and laid so many foundations of the country and society we live in.”
The tape is accompanied by a book which contains both words and music for the songs. In addition there are comments and notes about the songs, providing an example of the original format and spelling as well as the sources used to obtain them. The derivation of the songs makes fascinating reading.