Elephant and Mule rule the Union

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PETE David is not a man of today’s world.

He lives in a very precise period of American history - from 1815 to 1848, known as the ‘Jacksonian era’. And so do his songs.

For years, David has been mining the history books, newspapers and archives of Jacksonian America - named after president Andrew Jackson - as inspiration for his band, Pete David and the Payroll Union.

And the seam is rich.

“I am just really interested in that period of history,” he says, “confessionals can be great but they just don’t interest me in the slightest. I don’t want to write about whether I’ve broken up with a girlfriend or not.

“Instead I’m writing about something I’m passionate about and at the same time I’m keen to make it musical.”

And while his muse - American history - may seem dry, the truth is quite the opposite. Many of these historical tales - wrapped up in political slander, historical events or even duels - cut to the heart of humanity.

But he does apply a degree of artistic licence to his song writing, however.

“But the point of these songs is to expand on what the history books say and try and understand the way people were feeling at the time.”

Nowhere is this more powerful than in the tragic Through the Trees, a song about a duel between two testosterone-fuelled politicians in 1804, former Secretary of the Treasury Alexandar Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr.

“The song isn’t so much about what happened but about how they must have been feeling as they were riding towards the duel itself. It was a duel with pistols, so each one of them had a 50/ 50 chance of coming out alive. It’s such a ridiculous loss of life but I was thinking about what it would be like to be one of two men on a clearing facing each other with that fate in mind.”

Hamilton and Burr travelled to Weehawken in New Jersey for the duel. Duelling was outlawed in most states but New Jersey’s penalties were less severe than those in New York, so Hamilton and Burr sailed separately across the Hudson River.

One of the lines in the song goes: “I do not wish to be here anymore,” which Hamilton says before he picks up the pistol that is presented to him.

The theatre-like drama of these tales makes for engrossing listening. And the fact these songs are all based on historical events adds to the drama. Verses of the song pan out like Sergio Leone movie scenes, Indeed, David himself confesses to having a visual approach to song writing.

“For Through the Trees I imagined the song as a cinematic vision, “ he says.

On Saturday Pete David and the Payroll Union bring their Jacksonian, duelling repertoire to life at Club 60 to launch their latest album, the Elephant and the Mule. There will be support from Low Duo and a DJ set from Bobby Lee.