Sound and Vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

28 September 2020

Recording of the week: Discovering Sibelius

This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Working at home has allowed me to listen to a lot more music than I normally would. One advantage is the opportunity to get to know areas of classical music that are unfamiliar. For me, one of those was the symphonies of the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Robert Wilhelm Ekman's painting Lemminkäinen at the Fiery Lake
Lemminkäinen at the Fiery Lake, Robert Wilhelm Ekman, c. 1867

It is extraordinary to think that Sibelius as conductor could have recorded his own works in the stereo LP era as he did not die until 1957. However, he withdrew from life and stopped composing during the mid-1920s after completing his Seventh Symphony and a few other orchestral works.

The first complete recording of the Symphonies to be released was made in 1952-1953 by Sixten Ehrling and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, but more famous is the cycle recorded for Decca by Anthony Collins and the London Symphony Orchestra between 1952 and 1954. This mono set is still held to be one of the best interpretations on disc. Other complete sets I have enjoyed recently are those by Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Many of the symphony cycles have other orchestral works as fillers such as Night Ride and Sunrise Op. 55, The Oceanides Op. 73, and the Lemminkäinen Suite Op. 22. Sibelius was a patriot, especially during the Russian occupation when his music became a rallying cry for his people with works such as the famous Finlandia. The Lemminkäinen Suite is based on Finnish folk legends (subtitled Four Legends from the Kalevala) and is a suite in four movements, the second of which is the famous Swan of Tuonela. The last movement is the thrilling Lemminkäinen’s Return Home.

Sir Thomas Beecham made a famous recording of the movement in October 1937, but he also performed the Suite at a Queen’s Hall concert on 27th February 1936. This Royal Philharmonic Society concert included Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, Walton’s Viola Concerto with William Primrose as soloist, a Schubert Symphony and the Sibelius Suite. A recording of Lemminkäinen’s Return Home exists in the Kenneth Leech collection (C738) at the British Library.

Having died in 1957 Sibelius is still in copyright so here are three short extracts which show the drive, power and excitement Beecham could bring to a live performance, encouraging the players of the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play at their virtuoso best.

In the first extract, you can hear Beecham shout at the climax.

Lemminkainen's Return extract 1

The articulation of the strings and brass is particularly noticeable in this next extract.

Lemminkainen's Return extract 2

The final extract is of the closing pages of the work.

Lemminkainen's Return extract 3

 

Follow @BLSoundHeritage@BL_Classical@soundarchive for all the latest news.

25 September 2020

The sounds of Autumn

Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning colour and there starts to be a definite chill in the air. These changes all point to one thing - the glorious season of Autumn.

Tree in AutumnCountryside in Autumn (Image by Hans Braxmeier on Pixabay)

The familiar sounds of the British summer have almost disappeared for another year as birds such as swifts, swallows, martins, warblers and many others begin to embark on long haul flights to warmer wintering grounds. Crickets and grasshoppers are falling silent and squirrels have begun to power up their nut radars.

Despite these changes there’s still plenty to look forward to as we move further into Autumn. Before long a host of new species will arrive on our shores and add their voices to the soundscape of our natural spaces. Here are just some of the visitors that we can expect to see and hear in the next few months.

Swans and geese:

In a few weeks time our estuaries and wetlands will begin to see the arrival of large flocks of swans and geese. Travelling from breeding grounds in Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland and Siberia, these highly vocal birds often congregate together in mixed flocks and, though not as pretty as the dawn chorus, create a seasonal soundscape that will continue throughout winter.

Barnacle Geese flock calls, recorded by Richard Beard in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland on 27 November 2005 (ref 146749)

Whooper Swan flock calls, recorded by Ian Christopher Todd on the Solway Firth, Scotland on 3rd December 2011 (ref 216057)

Whooper Swans in flightWhooper Swans in flight (Image by Rihaij on Pixabay)

Ducks and waders:

The British coastline offers a safe haven for many ducks and waders who decide to spend the chillier months with us. From swirling flocks of Knot to bobbing groups of excitable Wigeon, these spectacles are another great excuse to visit the coast after the summer has faded away. 

Mass take-off and circling of a flock of Knot, recorded by Nigel Tucker in Norfolk, England during November 1995 (ref 124981)  

Eurasian Wigeon male whistles and female growls, recorded by Simon Elliott in Northumberland, England on 6 November 1994 (ref 43466)

Male Eurasian Wigeon on the waterA male Eurasian Wigeon on the water (Image by Mabel Amber on Pixabay)

Thrushes:

The UK has four resident species of the thrush family - the Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Ring Ouzel. As we move into Autumn, these birds are joined by two more relatives, namely the Fieldfare and Redwing. Often seen together, these birds are a classic sound and sight of the British countryside in Autumn and Winter.

Fieldfare contact calls, recorded by Richard Margoschis in Warwickshire, England on 16 April 1967 (ref 06770)

Redwing calls, recorded by Richard Margoschis in Staffordshire, England on 15 October 1972 (ref 07433)

RedwingRedwing (Image by Ingi Finnsson on Pixabay)

The sounds of Autumn are not produced by birds alone though. The annual deer rut is another seasonal highlight and two of our most abundant species are gearing up for some serious vocal duelling. Red Deer stags will spend the next couple of months bellowing and strutting in an attempt to keep hold of their harem and ward off potential rivals. For Fallow Deer bucks, the mating season lasts for only a few weeks, however the spectacle is no less impressive. Constantly on high alert and calling both day and night, the males of both species are shadows of their former selves by the end of the mating season. It’s an exhausting process. The following excerpts give you some idea of the effort required.

Bellows from a Red Deer stag, recorded by Alan Burbidge in Leicestershire, England on 22 October 2000 (ref 146241)

Fallow Deer rutting calls from two rival males, recorded by Phil Riddett in Kent, England on 23 October 2013 (ref 250012)

Fallow Deer buckA Fallow Deer buck (Image by Hans Benn from Pixabay)

You’d be wrong in thinking that birdsong is well and truly over for another year. Though some of our favourite songsters won’t start up again until early next year, there is one little songbird who can be relied upon to bring us some cheer over the coming months. Robins are determined little characters who use their voice in Autumn and Winter as a kind of avian alarm system. Behind those pretty melodies is a fierce warning advising other birds to think twice before coming into their territory. Both male and female robins sing during this period of year, which is unusual for British birds, and though the Autumn song lacks the exuberance of the Springtime version, it is still a very welcome sound.

European Robin song, recorded by Kyle Turner in Dorset, England on 15 October 2000 (ref 143171)

European Robin singing from a fence postEuropean Robin (Image by Public Domain Pictures on Pixabay)

The natural world has been an absolute lifeline for many of us during the past few months and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t continue to be so. So grab a jacket and a good pair of boots and get out there.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

24 September 2020

Young for Eternity: Unlocking Our Sound Heritage preserves the Subways’ Glastonbury demo

Written by Nina Webb-Bourne, Communications Intern for UOSH.

On 28 March I was supposed to be going to the O2 Forum in Kentish Town to see the Subways, an English rock band, with my sister. However, all live music was effectively cancelled as we entered into a national lockdown five days before. The evening would have been both a celebration of seeing a favourite band live, and the recent news that I had been hired by the British Library. Little did we know, I would quietly start my position as the communications intern for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project still in lockdown, two months later.

In a happy coincidence I soon learned about the inclusion of a rare Subways demo in the Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection (C1238). In fact, the band was first to win a competition giving unsigned bands the chance to perform on stage at the festival. You can read more about the history of the Emerging Talent Competition in this blog by Karoline Engelhardt, which marked the 50th anniversary of ‘Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival’ on 19 September.

SubwaysAbove: A photo of the Subways’ Charlotte Cooper and Billy Lunn playing bass and guitar on the Other Stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2004. © STUNPHOTO

For five years, unsigned bands sent in physical applications with a short biography and a demo CD containing their best tracks. The competition soon moved online, but in the brief period beforehand it generated a large number of boxes of ephemeral material related to the entries, and close to 5,000 CDs. The local library in Glastonbury was a likely candidate for storing the collection but it was neither able to process the stock or house it.

However, the organisers sought a permanent home for the collection and were able to connect with the British Library’s Popular Music department for this purpose. The Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection would go on to be identified as a valuable treasure trove of youth culture, and deemed a worthy beneficiary of UOSH’s National Lottery Heritage funded effort to preserve and provide access to some of the UK’s rarest and most at-risk sound recordings.

Listen to 1 AM

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

In light of the significance of this collection and the serendipity of my working on a project involving the Subways, I was excited to be able to interview lead singer and front man Billy Lunn. Billy plays guitar for the band alongside Charlotte Cooper (co-lead, bass and backing vocals) and Josh Morgan (drums). I talked to him about the journey from being an unsigned act to traveling the world with his bandmates, and what it means to know their Glastonbury demo now resides in the UK’s national library.

In 2004, Billy Lunn was working in a hotel, collecting dirty laundry from rooms. He was also writing and recording lots of music for his band, the Subways. To pay his parents back for purchasing his 8-track mixer, he also recorded tracks for other local bands in the kitchen of his parent’s council house in Welwyn Garden City. By chance he found out about Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition. Billy explains:

‘I’d mixed this other band’s tracks and handed them their finished demo. I asked where they were going to send it, offering the details of some really supportive promoters we’d come across. They said “Thanks, but we’re actually just going to send this to Michael Eavis. He’s running this unsigned bands competition, and if you win, he’ll put you on the Other Stage at Glastonbury.”

‘A month later, I received a phone call from a man called Wes White, saying he loves the songs, and that he thinks we should make our way up to Pilton to play for Michael at his working men’s club.’

White was part of the jury that helped choose the finalists for the Emerging Talent Competition from 2004-07. However, he had been involved with the festival since its earliest days. His mother, Hilary White, had worked at the Festival Office in Glastonbury town and helped to formalise the process behind the competition.

From the moment the office’s address had got out, she had fielded a barrage of speculative CDs and cassettes coming in. Initially she had listened to these demos on her own. She would pass them on to whichever stage booker she deemed appropriate, though slots were often difficult to find between the bookings for established artists. Eventually Hilary White managed to get bookers for the main stage to agree to host one unsigned band each, with the overall winner going on to play on the Other Stage.

CharlotteAbove: A photo of Charlotte Cooper facing the crowd at Glastonbury Festival, as she plays her bass guitar. © STUNPHOTO

When the conventions of the competition were confirmed, Wes White joined a panel of judges at the live finals, including Michael and Emily Eavis, Martin Elbourne (who booked the Pyramid Stage), Malcolm Haynes (Dance Village and Jazz/World Stage), BBC Radio One presenter Huw Stephens, and producer Philippa Marshfield, among others. White speaks about his time as a judge fondly:

‘We were very proud of the number of unsigned performers we found slots for across the festival, beyond just the winning artists, and of the achievements that some of “our acts” have gone on to.’

He remembers the Subways performance in Pilton. In particular he recalls ‘their energy and straightforward, no-messing approach’ which helped them to stand out. The band managed to squeeze six songs into a tight twenty-minute set. Most importantly for White, they let the music speak for itself. Billy recollects that the band were packing their instruments away when Michael Eavis strolled straight over to them to offer them the Other Stage slot.

Listen to City Pavement

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

The prospect of playing live on the Other Sage at Glastonbury elicited the usual pre-gig nerves, but it did not daunt the band. They were 18 or 19 at the time, relishing the chance to make some noise, and still riding on a high from beating the competition in Pilton. They also knew they had nothing to lose. Surprisingly, the gig itself remains a hazy blur to Billy, Charlotte and Josh. Billy says:

‘I can vividly remember standing side-of-stage before showtime, and also walking into the arms of our manager after finishing the set. The gig itself was probably a little too much excitement for my consciousness to keep hold of. One day, maybe, hopefully, the show will come flooding back. Every electric second of it.’

BillyAbove: A photo of Billy Lunn twisting mid-air as he plays his guitar to the crowd on the Other Stage in 2004. ©. STUNPHOTO

Playing at Glastonbury had an immediate effect on the band. They decided to quit their jobs, having determined that winning the competition proved them they should devote their lives to making music. Following their appearance on the Other Stage, they began work booking their first UK tour. At the close of the tour they were signed by Warner Records. Their debut album, Young for Eternity, was released in July 2005.

The Subways have recently marked the 15th anniversary of Young for Eternity with a special edition release of the record and a tour rescheduled for next year. They have also recorded Rock & Roll Queen in 20 different languages for fans all over the globe. Billy reflects on the journey from his parents’ kitchen to touring and performing Young for Eternity now:

‘We’ve been asked many times over the last decade whether we’re sick of playing songs from Young for Eternity - especially Rock & Roll Queen – and our answer is always the same; never! Performing on stages all over the world is absolutely the most enjoyable part of all of this. No matter how many times we play the songs from Young for Eternity, as long as they create an atmosphere of joy and togetherness, we’ll play them with the urgency and vivacity as if it’s the first time.’

Listen to Rock & Roll Queen

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

A part of this journey and a unique artefact of the band’s personal history has now been preserved and digitised by UOSH for the British Library’s sound archive. There was only ever one version of the CD made which was submitted to the Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection, (C1238/2540). It was essentially a ‘best of’ compilation of all the demos that the band had recorded up to that point.

Billy feels thankful to have taken part in the competition in the first place, and to have gone on to have the chance to support their heroes on stage at such an early age. Turning his mind to the value of the UOSH project at British Library, and our safekeeping of this sole version of their demo, he says:

‘The prospect of preserving cultural artefacts is something for which I show unending support. I am passionate about the history of rock music. I always feel unworthy of any such devotion of focus to my own works or narrative, but I ultimately feel remarkably happy that some semblance of our story is being safely preserved for those who may harbour even the vaguest of interest in it.’

Listen to I'm In Love

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

JoshAbove: A photo of Josh Morgan playing the drums at Glastonbury on The Other Stage in 2004. © STUNPHOTO

Alongside Billy Lunn, Wes White, who is a librarian himself, expresses his ‘relief, delight and pride’ that this snapshot of underground music at that time is now part of the historical record. By October the collection will be fully preserved, and will be made available to the public soon.

I am grateful to Billy and Wes for agreeing to be interviewed for this piece, and Ben Hamilton-Kirby and BMG for helping us to share these recordings. Thanks to the many members of the UOSH project who have worked on this vast and fascinating collection, including but not limited to; Karoline, Kirsten, George, Lucia, Greg, Gosha, Karl and Tom.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage, @BL_PopMusic, and @soundarchive for all the latest news

UOSH Banner