I absolutely love this album. I feel very privileged to have seen Matt perform it at Tolpuddle 2016 and to have gained insight into the stories behind the songs. It is hard to choose a favourite song as it works so well as a whole. I have listened to it a few times now and it still makes me feel all the emotions from despair to joy, but mostly joy. I am sure I will have these songs and stories and the history they tell in my mind next time I go to the ballot box.
Favorite track: Banners held high.
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THE BATTLE FOR THE BALLOT
In an era of voter apathy and low election turn out, comes an album that's a timely reminder of the sacrifices made in the fight for the right to vote.
The Battle for the Ballot was born from a unique collaboration between a museum and a songwriter. As part of an Arts Council funded 'songwriter in residence' project at the People's History Museum, Matt Hill / Quiet Loner was tasked with exploring the story of Universal Suffrage. The ten songs on this album tell the story of the men and women - reformers, revolutionaries, campaigners, chartists, suffragists and suffragettes - who fought for our right to vote, which was finally achieved in 1928.
This is more than just a dry history lesson, by drawing on historical source materials and first hand testimonies, Hill has brought back to life voices from the past. Working alongside museum curators, Hill took inspiration from physical objects in the collection. The wooden desk on which Thomas Paine wrote 'The Rights of Man' in 1792 became the starting point for album opener 'Nothing less than revolution'. But it is the people, associated with the objects and artifacts, who populate these songs.
Guest vocalist Tracey Browne (singer-songwriter and sometime member of Thea Gilmore's touring band) brings to life voices such as radical writer Mary Wollstonecraft (Nothing less than revolution), suffragist Hannah Mitchell (Hannah) and an anonymous suffragette prisoner (Paint this Prison). Whilst there are songs of struggle here, such as the harrowing 'St Peter's Field' (describing the events of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre and based on the testimony of radical Samuel Bamford) there are also songs of joyful solidarity (Banners held high) and shared purpose (Half a dozen demands).
Hill's dexterous use of words has long been a signature of his songwriting style ("The wordplay is pure Costello. Delicate songwriting, with hints of folk and Americana.” Uncut **** ) and it is evident here on tracks like 'St. Peter's Field' (a vicious, pernicious, malicious militia) and 'The sly suffragette' . Producer and arranger Mike Harries has brought a broad musical pallet to give the songs emotional depth ranging from marching brass bands (Banners Held High) to Sun records rockabilly (Railings) to chapel hymns (Election Day).
Launched for Manchester Histories Festival in June 2016 ‘The Battle for the Ballot’ began as an acoustic live show, combining the songs with visuals from the museum collection. Now with this album release, Hill has finally followed up on 2012's 'Greedy Magicians', and made a record that shares many of the themes of its predecessor – the value of standing up and speaking out, the importance of knowing your history and how rights are never given, they must be fought for.
released November 27, 2016
Matt Hill Vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, banjo
Mike Harries Drums, piano, organ, electric guitar, brass and string parts, backing vocals
Tracey Browne Vocals
Dave Harries Bass and resonator guitars
All songs written by Matt Hill
Produced by Mike Harries and Matt Hill
Recorded at Electric Caveman Studio, Bwlch, Brecon Beacons.
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Mike Harries
Additonal Recording by Tracey Browne
Brass and string arrangements by Mike Harries
Artwork and design by Jacob Kirk
Photos and images used by kind permission of The People's History Museum
The writing and recording of these songs was made possible thanks to public funding from Arts Council England.
The crowd is so packed it's hats touching hats,
barely the room, for a soul to breathe
The air standing still in high summer heat,
as it carries the sound of snarling teeth
'Cause here come the horses, the deadly armed forces
of magistrate, captain and king
To contest and arrest us, to curse and disperse us,
sworn to bring order but it's chaos they bring
A vicious, pernicious, malicious militia,
of shopkeepers, millowners, a voluntary force
A respectable rabble, strapped to the saddle,
neck-oiled landlords with unsettled scores
The hooves as they circle, kick up a dust storm,
a clawing taste of clay and of earth
with grit in our eyes, hear the screams and the cries.
It sound like a death but it could be a birth
Now the wicked have drawn out their swords
and cast down the needy and poor
and the silks we once carried lie tattered and buried
in the dust of St.Peter's Field
Mrs Elizabeth Farren carries her child
desperate to find an escape
She recognises her neighbour Mr Tebbet the soldier,
but by then it's simply too late
His sabre held upright as it catches the sunlight
then swooshes and swings, down into the dust
Casually cutting her best sunday clothes,
down through the skin and finally to bone
A woman, her face all bloody and razed,
with her bonnet hanging down by a string
She cradles some gravel in the hem of her apron
as she fashion herself a sling
Launches a stone at a soldier but her aim isn't true
and she's sliced through the shoulder as her body falls through
She is shoved down and pushed, she is cut at and crushed,
her daughter beside her as their flesh is divided
As the dust finally clears, a dread sight appears,
like they opened the gates up to Hell
The ground strewn with caps, shawls , shoes and hats,
and bodies slashed, splintered and smashed
An infantry man wipes blood from a bayonet
as a smile crawls on his face
He grabs a banner as a souvenir,
of all that he's done here, the mob are back in their place