Pete David and the Payroll Union lives and breathes American history.
So much so that the Sheffield Americana band have teamed-up with a Sheffield University historian to create a very unusual live show, Faith and Fear in Philadelphia.
David says: “The event brings together musicians, historians and artists to discover how we understand the past – whether the history book or the song.”
The fusion between the band and Sheffield University lecturer Andrew Heath was borne out of frontman Pete David’s long-standing interest in 19th-century American history.
His songs relive dramatic duels, love affairs, political upheaval and tragic human interest tales from one of the most pivotal periods in American history, when the nation we now call the United States of America was born.
And while this may sound dry, it’s not. David’s knack for twisting history into catchy, moving or rhythmic ditties is reflected in the solid following the band has amassed over the last three years. “We’ll be performing the songs that were directly inspired by the project,” says David.
Indeed, seldom is American history so audible, tangible and visceral.
But that’s not all. “As well as the performance, there will be a panel discussion beforehand with musicians, Michael J Tinker, Gregory S Davies and Billy Coleman. Michael has recently been writing an album of songs based on true stories from WWI and next year will be starting a project looking at the stories and poems of Edgar Allen Poe. Davies plays with his band across the country and is also an historian, Coleman is researching American Civil War songs,” says David.
Indeed, David’s enthusiasm for American history knows no bounds. “As part of the project I visited Philadelphia to do research on the the city, and one of the exciting things I brought back was a series of recordings of Philadelphians reading out the source material that had inspired many of the songs I’d written. We will use these recordings as part of the performance, sometimes as an introduction to a song, and at other times, within the song itself.”
It’s not just about music, either. Film-maker Cathy Soreny, who has been documenting the progress of this project, will play a short clip of video which explains how David mines academic research for his songs.
Faith and Fear in Philadelphia takes place at the Library Theatre on May 30. The event starts at 6.30pm with a discussion panel and Pete David and the Payroll Union’s performance follows at 8pm.