Broadside Ballads were the pop music of the seventeenth century. They sold for a penny a piece in marketplaces, and each song – printed on one side of a piece of paper – presented to the consumer a text in verse, the name of a tune and one or more simple ‘woodcut’ pictures. Ballads were the cheapest form of literature available. Most people made little attempt to preserve them for posterity but, fortunately for us, wealthy collectors such as Samuel Pepys gathered broadsides and pasted them into volumes.
Hit songs and their significance in 17th century England is a collaborative research project, generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, between Professor Chris Marsh of Queens University Belfast, Dr Angela McShane, The Carnival Band and a number of outstanding musicians from the worlds of folk and early music. The project aims to identify one hundred best-selling ballads of the seventeenth century. Eventually, there will be a website featuring 100 new recordings and digital images of all the songs.
100 Top Hits of the Seventeenth Century were recorded between May 2014 and February 2017 in 65 sessions totalling approximately 200 hours. The total length of the finished recordings comes to 16 hours! To whet your appetite we offer you some of our favourite ballads from the 100 which will eventually appear, free to download, on the research project’s website.