For the past year the Sheffield-based Americana band The Payroll Union have been working alongside our historians to explore the ways in which we tell stories about the past. An event was held at Library Theatre in Sheffield on 30th May, where the band performed all 13 songs and complimented the performance through images, lyrics and text. A discussion panel was also present to explore the themes of the project.
You can read the band’s personal account of the project here.
The Payroll Union’s official website
Pete David, singer-songwriter of the acclaimed Sheffield Americana band The Payroll Union, finds inspiration in an unlikely place: the nineteenth-century United States. The band’s first album, The Mule and the Elephant (2012), explored the seventy years that followed the Declaration of Independence, with songs about democracy, slavery, and empire-building. Now, with the help of an Arts Enterprise grant, Pete has joined up with filmmaker Cathy Soreny from Optical Jukebox and Andrew Heath in the History department to work on an album set in antebellum Philadelphia: decades in which a city founded by Quakers as a haven of religious tolerance became (as one contemporary put it) “the most anarchical metropolis on this side [of] the Atlantic”. Focusing on the racial, religious, and social strife that brought civil war to the city’s streets, the project combines film, music, and historical scholarship while asking questions about how we tell stories about the past. After previewing some of the songs at the Sensoria Festival in September, The Payroll Union officially launched Faith and Fear at the Harley on 21 October, and over the next few months there will be several events leading up to the recording of the album in April. If you’re interested in finding out more, please get in touch with Andrew Heath.
An unlikely collaboration between a Sheffield-based Americana band and Dr Andrew Heath from the Department has produced an album with a difference, inspired by 19th century American history.
Photo of Andrew HeathThe Mule and the Elephant by The Payroll Union will be launched on 19 January 2013 at Club 60, recording studio to Sheffield bands Reverend and the Makers and The Crookes.
Lead singer Peter David, who currently works in Student Services at the University of Sheffield, explained how the collaboration with Dr Andrew Heath came about and the inspiration behind the album: “I met academics from the Department of History at one of our Tramlines gigs this year. They were interested to know how and why I came to write songs primarily about 19th Century American characters and events, and more specifically the Jacksonian Era (roughly 1815-1848). I didn’t study history, I’m just interested in this period – the most interesting in American history, I think – it’s full of duels, religious persecution, political corruption and sex scandals!”
“Our shared interest in this era led us to decide to work together on a joint project. I asked Andrew if he would like to write the liner notes for the album to expand on some of the themes and he agreed, which is really exciting. We’re also in the process of submitting a proposal for Arts Enterprise funding to work on a collaborative project about the antebellum period, drawing on a lot of Andrew’s research.”
Dr Heath said: “It’s been a pleasure to work with Pete, who is not only a great songwriter, but also a very talented historian. The album he’s written brings to life people and ideas I’ve been teaching and researching for the last ten years and it’s been exciting for me and my students to find someone who can tell the stories we explore through books and articles in such a novel way.”