October 23, 2013 by Amy Ryall
As part of the MA module, Understanding Public Engagement, we’re encouraging students to attend as many public engagement events as they can, and to reflect on their experiences, preferably in a blogpost. This week, Sheffield Americana band The Payroll Union launched their Faculty of Arts and Humanities Arts Enterprise funded project Faith and Fear in Philadelphia. It’s a collaboration with Dr Andrew Heath in the Department of History. You can find out more about the project by reading Andrew’s blog on the History Matters site and below are MA student Kate Geller’s reflections on the evening.
Last night I went to The Harley in Sheffield, to the launch of Faith and Fear in Philadelphia a collaborative project between band The Payroll Union and academic staff in the Department of History. The focus of the project is 19th century American History as academic Dr Andrew Heath works with the band to explore his area of research. Firstly I think it’s important to say that it was a fun evening with a range of talented and interesting bands – I think supporting act The Gregory S Davies Band particularly had a great range of instruments including an accordion and violin; this gave me flashbacks to folk nights with my parents growing up – but obviously with a bit more style. The Payroll Union were excellent, they were completely intense and compelling and I felt sucked in to their music – however I didn’t understand the lyrics or the historical influence one bit – but I don’t really think this matters.
The idea of using music as a tool for public engagement is not new to me. I used my undergraduate degree to explore the sociology of popular music and how it affects community and individual identities. From neo-soul & conscious hip hop’s role in Black Muslim communities in America to the way hip hop culture was adapted by the Arab Spring as the voice of a revolution to UK Artists like Akala calling his album Knowledge is Power and speaking about politics and identity both in his music and in lecture theatres. I have always been intrigued by how music and academic thinking overlap. However for me this music has always been lyrically focused, hip hop draws from poetry and spoken word with a heavy emphasis on lyrical content.
The Payroll Union are certainly a world away from rappers clearly and (sometimes) coherently outlining their thinking in their lyrics as the central aspect of their music. This is not to say that the vocal is not important in their music as lead singer Pete David has a powerful voice which draws you in; the lyrical content just isn’t so clear. I think that is something that makes this project so unique and it will be interesting to see how it develops. I also think that this makes the project engaging to audiences which public engagement by universities doesn’t always reach – this is of course depending on the success and variety of the fan base of The Payroll Union. I’m not 100% convinced it would necessarily draw a lay person into finding out more about the research area but certainly I can believe a few fans may want to learn more if only because it is such an unusual pairing. What’s more it can certainly be said to show how academic thinking can directly influence culture. It is a project I would like to follow as it grows, particularly to see how it ends up engaging with the public and what, if any, new social groups it manages to interest in that particular period of history.
You can follow the progress of the project at http://www.thepayrollunion.com and on Twitter @FaithFearPhilly
Andrew Heath and Pete David will be in The Bath Hotel in Sheffield from 6pm on Monday 28 October for a discussion event about the project. All those wanting to find out more or to discuss getting involved welcome.
The Payroll Union’s next gig is at Queens Road Social Club in Sheffield on 30 November http://www.harleylive.co.uk/page/2/