Review | Songlines

Blackletter Garland

Rating: ★★★★

View album and artist details

Album and Artist Details


Hack-Poets Guild


One Little Independent


The Hack-Poets Guild are Marry Waterson, Lisa Knapp and composer and sound designer Nathaniel Mann. Working with Sound UK Arts, they were invited to Oxford's Bodleian Library to draw from original 18th- and 19th-century broadsheet ballads collected and donated by one-time music hall pianist Walter Harding – in their time they were sold for a penny, and were the tabloid media of their day. These they have adapted or used as inspiration for new compositions in Blackletter Garland, and with composer and producer Gerry Driver, the Hack-Poets Guild set these stories and characters, whose tales could be our tales, to an exploratory, experimental and innovative range of vocalisations and musical settings.

Marry Waterson's opener, ‘Ten Tongues’, begins with scraping bows before a pre-industrial trip-hop beat carries us jerkily through images of life and death, its story drawn from Oxford folklorist Percy Manning, while Lisa Knapp delivers an unrepentant spoken-word account of ‘Daring Highwayman’, her double-tracked vocals and ragged galloping rhythms raising up rakish regency punk airs. Nathaniel Mann's keening, gravelly voice on ‘The Devil's Cruelty’, the true tale of the 17th-century suicide of George Gibbs, is trailed by what sounds like rattling chains and a piping, thin accordion drone. Each is hugely distinct, atmospheric and innovative, and the remaining nine songs sustain those qualities, making Blackletter Garland an album that's immersive and compelling.

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