‘Tom of Bedlam’ on new Shakespeare album

So, waaaaaay back in April I played a few gigs as part of a celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare being consistently dead. I also recorded a song for an upcoming album. Here is the press releasey stuff from the folks at Autolycus Records:

The Food of Love project album will be officially released December 2016: a collection of songs mentioned or referenced in Shakespeare’s plays, composed during or before the Bard’s lifetime. Featured artists include Stornoway, Dead Rat orchestra, Alastair Roberts, Brickwork Lizards, Flights of Helios and many more.

I was very happy to be asked if I’d like to do ‘Tom of Bedlam’ (also known as ‘Mad Tom of Bedlam’, also known as ‘Bedlam Boys’, also known as all kinds of other things). In Shakespeare’s time the name was given to pretty much any man who was considered worthy of being put the famous Bethlem Royal Hospital, known as Bedlam. Basically, it was like referring to someone as ‘Johnny Madman’. In King Lear, when Edgar is disguising himself as Poor Tom, which is a reference to this figure in popular culture. And the guy who was putting the album together is also called Tom, so it had a touch of the destiny to it.

I think it was after I had recorded the song that I was chatting to Tom on the phone, and I asked if he was sure that the song was actually out of copyright. The text certainly was, but people often get caught out when covering traditional English songs: the text is clearly public domain, but the tune is actually modern. The earliest version I could trace back was to Steeleye Span, so I thought there was a chance that it might be by Martin Carthy, Maddy Prior and co. But it turned out it was actually by the band The Halliard, and the tune was written by Nic Jones and Dave Moran. Now, Nic Jones is one of the most important artists in English folk music. He’s a bit of a hero of mine.

So that would mean… contacting record labels, trying to find which subdivision they were signed to, who owns the rights now…

Except that this is the folk music world. So I looked on his website, and phoned up his manager, who is also his wife. And I was treated to an hour or so of wonderful gossip from the inside track of some of the biggest bands in English folk music.

Such as? Well, I’m obviously not going to tell you. I just wrote that as an excuse to massively namedrop.