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Broadside Hacks, on tour with their Songs Without Authors project, standing outside the back of a venue.

Dig the new breed: Meet the Broadside Hacks

In that rare, liminal space between traditional folk and indie music, you'll find Broadside Hacks - a London collective of young musicians taking the old songs to new audiences. Jon Wilks caught up with founder member, Campbell Baum, in their New Cross studio.

On a warm, mid-April morning, I find my way back into London. Once a resident of this sprawling city, I’ve not been here in some time, and the overground train snaking from Clapham Junction to New Cross reveals South London like a tour guide to a former life. I’m here to meet Campbell Baum, known to some of our readers as a member of Sorry; increasingly well-known to people involved in the tradfolk world as the man behind Broadside Hacks. The latter has been remarkably successful at introducing traditional folk songs to a non-folkie audience – their compilation album, Songs Without Authors Vol.1 attracting killer reviews, appearances at SXSW, a national tour and European festivals. Some articles have written about Broadside Hacks as being at the centre of an emerging folk scene, popular with a much younger generation, that seems to have bypassed the existing tradfolk community altogether.

Keen to find out what was afoot, I arranged to meet Baum for a chat, which is how I find myself arriving at their New Cross rehearsal studio, sitting in the corner, conspicuously long-in-the-tooth amongst these young twenty-somethings, as the band runs through a set ahead of their appearance at Rotterdam’s Momo Festival. There are nine members in attendance – a 10th is due to join them on stage – and it’s glorious to hear them breathing new, alternative, decidedly indie-flecked life into a selection of age-old songs. It’s not a million miles away from the jazz-infused sound of Pentangle, a band that comes up several times in the following interview, and it’s very interesting to hear that, yet again, the psych-folk forerunners of the early 70s have played such a big part in sparking a renewed interest in traditional music.

I catch up with Campbell Baum just before rehearsals start and find a young man consumed by music, newly infected with the tradfolk bug and lifting zero fingers to find a cure.

Broadside Hacks is simply the spirit of people playing together. After lockdown, that was what kind of excited us.

Campbell Baum, Broadside Hacks

What are the Broadside Hacks? It might seem a straightforward question, but I’ve seen you described as a band, a scene, a label, a collective… How would you describe it yourselves?

I promoted nights for years in London, and it was initially supposed to be a more specialised version of that. I put on Junior Brother in London. That was cool. I saw him perform in Dublin in December 2019… I was like, “OK, I’d like to try and do something to recreate this atmosphere in London.”

What was it about that atmosphere that you wanted to recreate?

The only folk event that I’d ever been to was, like, Fairport Convention in a church celebrating their 50th year. Junior Brother was just rowdy and it felt alive. There’s probably no better place to go to a gig like that – right there in Dublin. There was a band called The Mary Wallopers supporting -a trad Irish band. They were really good, and then Junior Brother came on with just a foot tambourine and an acoustic guitar and everyone was… well, it was like a rowdy punk gig [laughs].

And that inspired you to come back and put your own thing on?

Yeah, Broadside Hacks started out as that, and then the pandemic arrived and obviously we couldn’t do shows. The launch night was supposed to be in July, 2020. I had Jacqui McShee from Pentangle booked, Junior Brother, and Wizz Jones as well, but that got canned, obviously. So then I wondered how I could do this without promoting shows. That’s when I thought of the Songs Without Authors idea.

So, at this point, it was not a band at all. It was just a label that was going to put together a compilation. And it was such a remote album. We did it by sending stuff across to each other – the arranging was done over email – and we’d never really played these songs in a room together. We started at the end of January, into February 2021.

After that, four of us – Naima Bock, Oscar Browne, myself and Frank Wright, who plays double bass – began a folk club. It was supposed to be casual, like, “let’s have a few cans and try playing some of these songs in the room,” and then we kept on inviting people and they’d invite friends.

Where was the folk club?

Print Village in Peckham. It’s a big industrial space with loads of art Studios. Oscar and Naima had just bought a space there, so we’d use their room. It’s very small.

How many people were coming along?

It started off as four and then it grew. People came and went throughout the night and Caroline had a rehearsal space across the hall, so members of that band would come in. It might be completely different people each week, but I think maybe there were 20 people there one night, maybe more. We’d come away with one new arrangement of a song every time.

So, someone would bring a traditional song and everyone would have a go at learning it?

Yeah. It was very casual. Someone would suggest a song and people would learn it for the following week or whatever. And then we’d teach the newcomers the old ones that we had been playing.

So that was all in between lockdowns?

Right. And then gigs started happening again. I was promoting another gig and they asked if we, as a kind folk club, would support. And that was it. The group was just called Folk Club at that time and some people wanted the name to stay because it was started by a lot of the people who were on the compilation. But I felt we should change the name, just to keep it less confusing.

So who’s in Broadside Hacks, the band?

I mean, it depends on the night!

I suppose that’s why it’s a collective. Who is in this weekend’s lineup?

Aga Ujma, our harpist. Sam Grassie is on acoustic guitar, Nathan Pigott on saxophone, Evie Hilyer-Ziegler on violin, Caius Williams on double bass, Jamie Staples on drums, Avice Caro on vocals, and I’m playing the banjo.

And each of them are involved in their own bands and projects separately, right? For example, you’re a member of Sorry…

Yeah. Caius and Nathan are jazz players predominantly. Evie is, I think, more classical/folk. Jamie is an all-rounder. He can slot into any band. He’s a very versatile drummer, which is why he’s in about six or seven different bands [laughs].

So, very few of you actually have backgrounds in traditional music.

Not really, no. I’d listened to folk music since I was about 18, but I never played it. Lockdown was really the first time I tried.

What were you listening to at 18?

It was Liege & Lief by Fairport Convention, some Pentangle, some of the revival stuff. And then during lockdown I began dating it back to the source singers.

So you got the bug?

[Laughs] Yeah! I went to see Caroline at Cecil Sharp House, as well as Peggy Seeger, but I’ve not been to the library yet. During lockdown I was going through those old books – that was the perfect time to really delve in. Since then it has been back to rehearsing for gigs, so I haven’t had as much time to go back and do the library properly. We will do that sometime. Some of the band are really in it for the playing, but Naima and I kind of bonded over that side of it – delving into old books and stuff. She’s been on tour for the last few months, so we haven’t been able to do much recently.

Folklore doesn’t offer safety in facts and evidence. Much like a macrocosm of our own lives, it is inconsistent, afraid, brave, heartbroken and strong.

Naima Bock, Broadside Hacks

When you’re picking out songs, are you interested in finding songs that other people don’t do much?

Yeah, for sure. Although, saying that, we’ve already released two versions of ‘Barbara Allen’ [laughs]. If there’s a song that someone’s brought to the table at the folk club, and it’s well known, it’s fine. I don’t think any of us would be like, “Oh, that’s too well known”. But with Songs Without Authors, definitely. I was trying to find those untouched songs. It’s more exciting.

The funniest one was when I was preparing for an event with Shirley Collins, and there was a song called ‘Sometimes’. It was really hard to hear the words, but I was like, “This is cool. I’m going to try and write them down.” I couldn’t find the words anywhere online. I thought, “No one’s done this before. This is great. I’ve found a gem.” When I finally worked out the words, I Googled them again and found that Moby had done it. It was a Moby sample!

When I’ve read about Broadside Hacks, it’s sometimes said that you’re part of a new London-based traditional folk scene. Is that a fair representation?

I don’t think any of us would refer to it as “a scene”. When Sorry was starting, we had a similar thing. The press called it a South London scene and everyone involved thought it was very funny. We began referring to it as a scene ironically, as a joke amongst us, because it seemed so ridiculous. I think some of the people who use that term have a tendency to think that scenes are people or bands that all play the same sort of music, and I don’t know if that’s the case. Inevitably, people come at these things from different angles.

From the outside, people might look at the Songs Without Authors Vol. 1 compilation and see a whole bunch of bands that are suddenly playing traditional songs, and then think, “Woah, where are all these bands coming from?” You can see how they might assume that something is going on.

Yeah. I wanted the album to be a mixture. With people like Daragh from Lankum, this kind of music is obviously what he does, as well as Yorkston/ Thorne/ Khan. And then the other side of it could be people that I really rated as songwriters, like Katy J Pearson and Naima. I knew they loved traditional music, but I also knew that they didn’t ever think that it was for them. I wanted to see what happened when someone that I felt was good at arranging their own music approached an old song, basically. The idea was to have this split of people that knew what they were doing and people that had no idea what they were doing [laughs].

Is it an ongoing thing, then, the collective and the label, or is it something that will fall by the wayside now that lockdown is over?

I think so much has changed since it first started, and so much has happened since we’ve been playing together. We’ve just come back from SXSW. We’re really early on in this journey. Then again, it’s also hard to tell who’s going to be in it next week [laughs].

Are you the one constant?

I’m not even that constant [laughs]. I’m in the States from Tuesday for a month, so they’re doing two shows without me.

OK. So there is no constant member. That’s amazing.

Me and Frank do a lot of the organising. Frank’s organisational skills are great, and he sorted out our itinerary for tomorrow’s gig in Rotterdam.

Rotterdam brings up another question. You are taking these traditional songs to festivals where a lot of established traditional folk performers rarely get a look in. How is that happening? Is that because of the indie connections you have?

I think so, yeah. Our agent is not specialised in folk at all. She’s also the agent for Yard Act. She does loads of post-punk stuff, Katy J Pearson as well, which is how I’ve got to know her. Sorry is part of the same agency. I’ve known her for a while and when Broadside Hacks initially started, I sent her Songs Without Authors Vol. 1 and asked if we could do a tour around it. I thought it was just a one-off tour, but suddenly she was into it and was like, “Cool. What’s next?”

That’s really interesting. I think many artists on the traditional folk scene find it difficult to cross over to a wider, non-folkie audience. One of the things that interests me about what you’re doing is that you seem to have come at it from a completely different angle. You don’t seem to have much connection with the existing traditional folk world at all. Is that fair to say?

Yeah. We have almost no connection at all.

Is that because you don’t really have much of an interest in it?

No, I don’t think so. I think initially, when it started, I imagined that this might become part of that scene. And then we’ve done a few things – played in some pubs and stuff – and it actually doesn’t really work without a certain number of people in the band. Not many of us are all that confident. I can’t go and do a traditional set on my banjo. It kind of needs all of us. The only time that we’ve played traditional music has been as this group. So separately, individually, we’re not really anything at all. But that’s kind of the idea of being in a band, isn’t it? If you lose one person, it’s not the same. This just happens to be a little bit more flexible in terms of being able to invite someone in to fill the space when someone else is missing.

It’s almost like a folk club in one sense: a fairly loose group of people getting together every week to play traditional songs, only you’re taking it on the road. Have you got plans to do more albums, then? Another compilation album, perhaps?

I think we’ll maybe do another compilation in the future, but I think the next album will be from this group. We actually had a meeting with a larger label yesterday who said they liked what the Broadside Hacks label were doing and offered us a label services deal. They were like, “we don’t want to put our stamp on it because it doesn’t really make sense. But we like that the label has a nice thing going on around it, so we wouldn’t be investing in you as a band, as a project, we’d be investing in the label”. That was the first meeting that we had but I think, based on the rough time frame we looked at, we’d be putting out an album in the first half of 2023, starting the recording process by the end of this summer.

The audiences that you’re attracting to your gigs, are they the same people who might come and see Sorry?

Yeah, I think so. There are obviously some younger folk heads who have not really had the chance to see much in London. Unless you put yourself in the folk scene, you don’t see much. I don’t know. I think people like myself, like lots of us, we got into it this music through the revival stuff rather than what’s going on now. You can be into Pentangle or Fairport, but you might not go to folk gigs. Maybe it’s the same as it was back then. It’s a similar separation to the one between, like, Ewan MacColl and Pentangle.

I think I know what you mean. There’s a difference between strict traditional styles and something a little more explorative. I’m seeing that elsewhere in the folk world at the moment. Take, for example, the burgeoning scene centred around Hyde Park Folk Club in Leeds that loosely involves Henry Parker, Iona Lane, Chris Brain, Jim Ghedi, George Boomsma, and Katy Spencer. Their playing often takes in traditional songs but tends to come out of that psych-folk world of Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, and people like that.

Yeah, exactly. A loose version of traditional stuff.

And then perhaps you’ve got musicians who are more traditionalist in the way that they approach their arrangements. Looking at it from the outside, it seems like this new wave of trad-folkies, which might include Broadside Hacks, sits in the Pentangle, psych-folk camp.

Yeah, 100%. It might be because it’s more easily accessible than the more traditional sounding stuff. I don’t know.

Are you finding that the non-folkies that come to Broadside Hacks gigs are then going off and investigating the more traditional stuff?

I’m not sure. I think they do. With our friends, for example, when it started off I think it was on the verge of being a bit of a novelty. But now we’re getting to the stage where I feel like we’re getting a bit better as a group, I think they can get it with it.

How did SXSW go?

We went with the film we’ve been involved in. Last year we shot a documentary at Real World Studios. It involved the “folk scene” that I guess you were referencing at the beginning of this chat – Caroline, Shovel Dance Collective, Thyrsis, and Boss Morris. It was all put together and promoted by a company called British Underground. They span all genres. A few years ago, they did a similar thing where they did a Grime night and they took Stormsy over there. They basically have three days at SXSW every year, so this year they had a jazz night and a folk night. Last year it was going to be centred around the Windmill in Brixton, so they choose a scene and they take it to the States. So it was a great introduction for us, even though it’s quite early in what we’re doing. They seemed to think it did what they wanted it to.

What did the documentary cover, and how can people see it?

British Underground had heard the compilation, basically, and they said, “Find five acts that are free on this date. We’re going to make a film.” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it!” [Laughs]. But we made it at Real World. It’s called The Broadside Hack.

It’s a film that looks at how we all came to find traditional folk music – how we all came from completely different places, basically, and how it influences what each of us do. Take Caroline, for example. They met playing in Appalachian folk bands in Sussex, and now they do something that’s very much not folk, but it’s there in their roots. We’re the opposite, obviously. We started off in another world and then sort of came to traditional folk music. My brother [Thyrsis] was a chorister at New College, so his introduction to it was through choral music. It’s interesting.

We’re going to be doing a little co-headline tour with Shovel Dance Collective in August right around the film’s release. We’ll start each show with a screening of the documentary and then we’ll perform.

Does the folk club night still exist, or are you all too busy?

We’re kind of all too busy now. It would be nice to start it up again, but not right now. It’s a shame. It would be impossible to get us all together. It’s hard enough to get us to rehearse for gigs [laughs].

Keep up with Broadside Hacks via their Instagram page, and their Bandcamp account, where you can buy Songs Without Authors Vol.1.

Since this Tradfolk website started, we’ve been asking people like Ben Edge and Boss Morris why they think folk music and folk culture feels particularly relevant at the moment. Here are three members of Broadside Hacks on their opinions and experiences.

Campbell Baum: I feel like it’s less that people are suddenly becoming interested in it, and more that, through being locked down, we were given the time to be able to explore outside our usual boxes. That was definitely it for me. I was like, “OK, I’m going to get stuck into something.”

There are so many bands and groups in London. Their influences come from all over the place. I don’t know if you know the band Black Country, New Road? Before lockdown, they were starting to incorporate klezmer into their music. I felt that it would be cool to do something where the roots were not what I already knew. I thought it would be nice to explore something completely different.

Sam Grassie: My Dad’s grandfather played fiddle and was a painter. He’d play fiddle at family gatherings. My dad didn’t think much of it till he moved from Paisley to Edinburgh where there was a decent folk scene. He changed from metal flute to wooden flute and played in bands.

I was born in rural Scotland and attended sessions and ceilidhs from zero years, toddling out of the bedroom at early hours to listen to the session from the hallway before being caught and taken back to bed. I attended Tinto summer school and St Rock’s Irish music school where I met a lot of good people.

I had definitely developed a focus on more original material and had somewhat forgotten my trad roots until I joined Broadside Hacks after meeting Campbell by chance at a Junior Brother gig in Camden a week before lockdown in March 2020.

Naima Bock: Folklore, whether communicated through music, stories or art, is one of the most important and relatable connections we can have with history. It provides us with an unregulated and emotional story of the otherwise forgotten people that preceded us; it is a true oral history. Folklore doesn’t offer safety in facts and evidence. Much like a macrocosm of our own lives, it is inconsistent, afraid, brave, heartbroken and strong; the only parts of it that are remembered are the ones with a heavy emotional weight (again, like our own memories). Folklore gives us a glimpse into a history that would otherwise remain hidden to us.