Sound and vision blog

7 posts from July 2015

28 July 2015

Coastal Memories

A couple of weeks ago, Paul Nichols wrote about the sounds of Norfolk's Blakeney Point, where he works as a ranger for the National Trust. We now hear from fellow ranger Kate Martin, who is based in the formby area, as she describes her favourite auditory memories.

I think hearing and smell are the two most evocative senses we have as human beings. One single sound can transport you back to a very specific place and time and can even make you recall the exact feelings you had at that moment. The coastal landscape of the UK is full of these sounds for me, and hearing any one of them is guaranteed to make me smile wistfully if I happen to be away from the coast.

One such sound is the piping call of the Oystercatcher. On hearing that high pitched “peep-peep” I am about 4 years old, standing on the steps outside of the cottage that we went to for our summer holidays on the Solway Firth in Galloway. I can feel the sun beating down, I can smell the coconut- scent of the gorse bushes that grew behind the beach and I can hear the cry of the oystercatchers as they move around the bay, searching for mussels and limpets on the rocks or tasty worms and other morsels buried under the sand.

Another more recent auditory memory comes from the wonderful Sefton Coast, where I am lucky enough to work as a National Trust Area Ranger. This sound has unfortunately been lost in many areas where it used to exist, but it still hangs on in a few precious locations in the UK. The sound is the unmistakeable call of the Natterjack Toad, which always reminds me of a well-worn ratchet being wound round and round. The toad can only be heard on warm nights between April and the end of June, and due to its nocturnal serenading it has earned the local name of the ‘Birkdale nightingale’. This sound reminds me of sitting on my front step in Formby with my husband and my border collie Lottie (and most importantly a chilled glass of white wine) at around 11pm on a balmy May evening, listening to the distant call of the male toads trying to attract a mate in the breeding pools. The most amazing thing is that these breeding pools are approximately 1km from where we were sitting, pretty impressive for a creature 7cm long!


A view of the sand dunes and beach at Formby, Liverpool (National Trust Images / Jemma Street)

I could go on for a long time listing coastal sounds and the places they remind me of, such as the babble and squabble of guillemots and South Stack on Anglesey, or the ethereal cry of grey seals and the Lizard peninsula. However the final sound I will leave you with, which is probably the most common in my day-to-day job, is the sound of an Area Ranger unintentionally crunching sand between her teeth after a day’s work on the wind-blasted sand dunes  - nice!

Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd, running from 21st June to 21st September 2015. Full details on the project and how to take part can be found here.


22 July 2015

The Sounds of Brighton Seafront

David Hendy is a media historian and professor of Media and Communication at the University of Sussex. Formerly a radio producer for the BBC, he has a deep interest in the relationship between humans and sound, in particular how these relationships can help us understand human experiences throughout history.  In 2013, he wrote and presented the 30-part Radio 4 series ‘Noise: a Human History’.

Our relationship with the coast has certainly changed over the years, and as a historian I think that studying sound can be a really useful way of reflecting that. Places like Brighton and other south coast towns were pretty small in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period: Brighton itself was a fishing village in decline, a working environment. However, by the end of the 18th century there was a growing fashion for sea-bathing, which resulted in more and more people visiting the area, but also in new kinds of sound. On the beach here in Brighton, for example, you’d probably hear the sounds of bathing machines being dragged up and down the shingle, sometimes pulled by horses. 

This leisure industry really took off in the 19th century once you had the railways facilitating day-trippers, but also when you started to have the notion of a ‘weekend off’ from work. Londoners would come down in their thousands upon thousands, and they were in search of fun. So all these towns like Brighton and Margate had to compete with each other to attract them through entertainment. This meant piers, funfairs and penny arcades, open-air theatres, bandstands. 

Nowadays, those have been added to by things like volleyball courts, bars and nightclubs, which continue to attract so many people in the high season that one of Brighton’s alternative monikers is ‘London-by-Sea’.  But really these attractions are all just the latest modern versions of something that’s been going on for over 150 years. The sounds might have changed, but people have been coming to these places to have fun – and sometimes quite raucous fun – for generations.

Personally, it’s that whole mix of sounds that I like about the coast. If you come down to Brighton and you lie on the beach and shut your eyes, you’ll hear an incredibly rich tapestry of sounds: the waves act as a baseline, on top of which you have other natural sounds like the wind and gulls, but also that element of people enjoying themselves in the cafes or the arcade. When you visit the coast you might have a rough idea of what you’re going to hear, but it’s the way in which those ingredients vary from place to place and from time to time, season to season, which makes the coast endlessly fascinating.

 I think a big part of people’s attraction to the coast stems from the fact that most of us don’t live near the sea these days. So when we do go to the beach, what we’re really trying to experience is a different landscape – and soundscape - to the one that we have in our daily lives. When we listen we are surrounded by sound - it’s a 360 degree experience - and we feel part of the environment in a way I don’t think we do when we simply look at something. In every day life we perhaps tend to take the sounds around us for granted, and I think one of the main virtues of this sound map project is the fact that it will help draw people’s attention to the kind of sensory experiences which we might usually overlook.  It will help remind us how precious these sounds are as part of our heritage, and how much we value them.

[Adapted from interview:]


Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd, running from the 21st June to 21st September. Full details on how to take part can be found here.

20 July 2015

Frank Andrews 1920-2015

Frank Andrews was a familiar face at the National Sound Archive in Kensington during the early 1990s when I first began work there.  Thereafter he was seen regularly in the Humanities 2 Reading Room where he was carrying out research for his many published discographies.  Fellow discographer Bill Dean-Myatt kindly provided this obituary.

Frank Andrews image 20001The noted discographical researcher Frank Andrews died on 26th June at the age of 94.  His reputation in this arcane field of scholarship was international in scope and his many publications set standards that provided the bench-mark for all his successors.

Frank was born on the 4th September 1920 in Willesden, North West London, the second child of Katherine and Herbert Andrews: he had an elder sister and two younger brothers.  Afflicted by asthma from a very young age he was too delicate to attend the local school and was sent to a special school for children with poor health, where he remained until the age of sixteen.

Tragedy struck the family when, at the age of 12, he lost his father.  His mother was left with four children to raise on her own, in addition to which Frank’s blind grandfather also lived in the house.  Nevertheless, despite their relative poverty and his ill-health he enjoyed a happy and loving childhood.  Because of his poor health he was frequently confined to bed for long periods, but these were not wasted as he became an omnivorous reader and an autodidact.

When Andrews left school, where he had risen to be head-boy, he became a messenger boy for a local company after which he was apprenticed to a diamond tool cutter, a job at which he worked until he retired at the age of sixty-five.

Through a mutual friend Andrews met his future wife Wyn, whom he married in 1953. She shared his love of music and was, in the course of their married life, to be the perfect hostess when he entertained the many British and overseas discographers who came to meals or who stayed with them, sometimes for extended periods.

Frank and Wyn used to take in foreign students who wanted to learn English and on one occasion in 1969 he and a French student, who was keen on music, went on a visit to central London where they came across an exhibition that was run by the CLPGS (City of London Gramophone and Gramophone Society).  The man in charge was Ernie Bayly and what he had to say interested Frank so much that he decided to do some research into the history of early record companies.  This was partly motivated by his Socialist views because he wished to discover for himself just how capitalism worked and record companies seemed to provide a suitable vehicle for this research. For many years he spent every Saturday in the British Museum’s newspaper archive at Colindale.

Andrews was also a regular visitor to the EMI Archives where he was granted open access to all their archives, both ‘in front and behind’ the counter.  So familiar was he with their holdings that he helped re-organise them in to a more logical form.

The casual encounter with Ernie Bayly at the CLPGS eventually produced forty books and innumerable articles in specialist magazines that have documented the culture of the United Kingdom as recorded on 78-rpm records and phonograph cylinders. His help with information provided is acknowledged in hundreds, if not thousands, of books, articles and sleeve notes produced world-wide.  Questions, even the simplest, from anyone would provoke Frank into a lengthy reply, handwritten and often written on the original letter you had sent him.  He was always the most generous of men when it came to sharing the fruits of his research,

His taste in music was eclectic, ranging from the music-hall singer Gus Elen to the music of Mozart via barbers shop singing and Deanna Durbin.  He also played both the piano and the button accordeon. A great lover of brass bands he, and Wyn, were patrons of Regent Brass, a band based in Brent. Somehow he also managed to find time to maintain an immaculate garden. A liberal thinker he was a staunch atheist and very much enjoyed vigorous debate.

Andrews received awards from the Association of Recorded Sound Collections and was a Patron of the CLPGS, by whom he was recently made the first recipient of a silver shield named the Frank Andrews Trophy for Research in Recorded Sound.

He leaves a widow and two daughters, Joy and Clare, and four grandchildren.  Very sadly his oldest daughter Kay died only a few weeks ago.

Bill Dean-Myatt 

                                                     BOOKS AND BOOKLETS

(**EMI Group labels)

Published by the CLPGS unless otherwise stated

CARTER, Sydney & ANDREWS, Frank.(1975) A Catalogue of Sterling Cylinders and A History

                            (Bournemouth. Talking Machine Review)

ANDREWS, Frank & BAYLY, Ernie(1982) Billy Williams – A Study In Discography

                              (Bournemouth. Talking Machine Review)

ANDREWS, Frank (1986) Edison Phonograph, The British Connection                          

ANDREWS, Frank, BADROCK, Arthur & WALKER, Edwards S. (1992) World Records, Vocalion “W”and Fetherflex                            

ANDREWS, Frank (1997) Brass Band Cylinder & Non-Microgroove Disc Recordings 1903-1960

                              (Winchester. Piccolo Press)

ANDREWS, Frank & BAYLY, Ernie (1998) Jumbo Records                            

**ANDREWS, Frank & BAYLY, Ernie (1999). Zonophone. Numerical Listing by Block Number

**ANDREWS, Frank & BAYLY, Ernie. (2000) Catalogue of HMV “B” Series Records                            

**ANDREWS, Frank & SMITH, Michael (2000) The Parlophone 12” E-10000 Series                            

**BADROCK, Arthur & ANDREWS, Frank (2000) The “Cinch” Record                           

**ANDREWS, Frank (2001) Columbia 10” Records 1904-30                             

**SMITH, Michael & ANDREWS, Frank (2002). Columbia Graphophone Company, English Celebrity Series.  10” & 12” D, LB, L, LX, YB, RO, ROX & D-40000 series                             

ANDREWS, Frank. (2002), A Fonotipia Fragmentia – A History of the Societa Italiana di Fonotipia, Milana,1903-1943  (Historic Singers Trust)

**ANDREWS, Frank & HAYES, Jim (2003) Columbia Graphophone Company “DB”series                             

ANDREWS, Frank & ARMFIELD Colin. (2003)  Polyphon, Klingsor & Pilot Records                             

ANDREWS, Frank & SMITH, Michael (2004) Columbia Graphophone Company, FB Prefixed Series 10”                             

**ANDREWS, Frank & SMITH, Michael (2004) HMV “C” Series, Complete Catalogue of Records.

**ANDREWS, Frank et al (2005) Columbia Phonograph Co, Complete Catalogue of Cylinders

                              (Cobham. Dominic Coomb)

**BADROCK, Arthur & ANDREWS, Frank (2005) The Complete Regal Catalogue                             

**ANDREWS, Frank. (2006). Catalogue of Zonophone Double Sided Records                             

**ANDREWS, Frank, HAYES, James G. & BAYLY, Ernie (2006) Double Sided Zonophone Records                             

ANDREWS, Frank (2010), The British Recording Industry During the Reign of Edward VII, 1901-1910                             

ANDREWS, Frank & DEAN-MYATT, Bill (2011). Favorite Record in the United Kingdom (CD-rom & book)                            

ANDREWS, Frank (2011) Phonograph Cylinder Histories – Britannia, British Lambert & Star (CD-rom and Book)                             

ANDREWS, Frank & DEAN-MYATT, Bill (2011). Beka Record in the United Kingdom (CD-rom & Book)                             

ANDREWS, Frank (2011) Phonography Cylinder Histories – Electric, International Indestructible & Russell (CD-rom & Book)                             

ANDREWS, Frank (2012) A History of the Marketing of Sound Recordings in Britain, 1890-1903                             

ANDREWS, Frank. (2012)Phonograph Cylinder Histories – Clarion (CD-rom & book)                             

ANDREWS, Frank. Phonograph Cylinder Histories – Sterling (CD-rom & Book)                             

ANDREWS, Frank & DEAN-MYATT, Bill (2013)  Homophone & Homochord Records in the United

Kingdom (CD-rom & book)

ANDREWS, Frank & HARRISON, Keith (2013)  Phonograph Cylinder Histories – The Pirates (CD-rom & Book)

 ANDREWS, FRANK & WOOD-WOOLEY, TIM (2013) The Edison 4 Minute Cylinder in Great Britain (CD-rom & book)                            

ANDREWS, FRANK & DEAN-MYATT, Bill (2014) Imperial Records (CD-rom & book)                             

**ANDREWS, Frank & SMITH, Michael ( - ) Parlophone Odeon Series                             

BADROCK, Arthur, ANDREWS, Frank & PILCHER, Grant ( - ) Filmophone Discography

                              (Gillingham. Talking Machine Review)

**SMITH, Michael & ANDREWS, Frank. ( - ) His Master’s Voice Recordings, BD series 10” Magneta Label 78rpm   (Gillingham. Michael Smith)   

ANDREWS, Frank ( - ) The British Record Industry During The Reign of Edward VII, 1901-1910 (CD-rom & book)

15 July 2015

A Year of Sounds at Blakeney Point

For many of us, coastal sounds are experienced sporadically during the year, either through the occasional day trip to the seaside or more prolonged bouts during periods of annual leave. For some though, the sounds of our amazing coastline form part of everyday life. Here, Paul Nichols, Seasonal Assistant Ranger for the National Trust, describes the changing sounds of Norfolk's Blakeney Point.

The year begins with howling winds battering the coast: churning up waves and sending them crashing onto the shingle spit. Once the wind drops however, the air is filled instead by the sounds of Blakeney’s resident birds: the gentle gurgling of Brent Geese merging with the soft 'wheeeo' whistles of Wigeon in the harbour. I will always remember my early days of working at Blakeney Point, and the moment when I first heard the calls of Shelducks wintering on the spit– a loud quacking sound like a ratchet being wound at high speed. I had never come across the noise until I joined the ranger team, but now I will always associate this sound with happy times working on the Norfolk coast. While walking along the beach I also often come across a flock of small brown birds, which explode into a white-winged blizzard as I approach. These are the elusive Snow Buntings, whose soft calls echo around the winter strandline along with that of their cousins – the Lapland Bunting. 


View south from nature reserve at Blakeney point, Norfolk (National Trust Images / Rod Edwards)

As Winter turns to Spring, breeding becomes the focus for birds on the Point. Skylarks serenade me through the dunes and remind me that summer is on the way, while Meadow Pipits make their ‘parachute’ display flights overhead, always accompanied by their high-pitched piping call. Stocky black-and-white Oystercatchers gather in large flocks to engage in fierce duels for dominance, rending the air with their ear-piercing ‘kleep…kleep… ’ battle-cries.

During high summer the harsh cries of our breeding terns and gulls can be heard, as they do their best to gather fish for their hungry chicks. The ‘ooooh’ sound of the Mediterranean Gulls always reminds me of village gossips getting hold of some juicy news, and provides an amusing backdrop to a summer stroll along the shoreline. While walking on the shingle it’s worth keeping an eye on where you put your feet, especially if you hear the ‘pu-whip pu-whip’ call of Ringed Plovers: they tend to lay their eggs in a shallow scrape on the ground, where they are camouflaged against the shingle and very easy to step on!

Visitors to the Point in late autumn or early winter could be forgiven for thinking they can hear the cries of a human baby – in fact it will be the cries of a silky Grey Seal pup demanding to be fed. Adult seals add to the cacophony with their melancholy wailing and snorting: females protect their pups by howling at other seals who get too close, while male bulls display their dominance to rivals by slamming their 400KG bulk into the ground.


A seal on a beach at Blakeney Point (National Trust Images / Joe Cornish)

Of course there is still plenty of birdlife around: Linnets twitter as they gather into large and vocal winter flocks, while from among the seablite plants growing on the salt-flats there comes the distinctive voice of a Reed Bunting calling for its mate.

These are only a few of the sounds that can be heard here on the Norfolk coast: you just need to open your ears and let them all flood in.

Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd, running from 21st June to 21st September 2015. Full details on the project and how to take part can be found here. In the meantime, here are a few recordings of the Norfolk coastline that have been submitted by members of the public:

10 July 2015

Recording discovered of 1938 world premiere performance of Britten Piano Concerto

For his first appearance at the Proms, the twenty-four year old Benjamin Britten gave the premiere of his Piano Concerto Op. 13 on 11th August 1938.  He was joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Henry Wood.  However, Britten was not happy with the third movement, originally titled Recitative and Aria, so he revised it in 1945 replacing it with an Impromptu.  The first performance of the new version was given by his friend Noel Mewton-Wood at the Cheltenham Festival in July 1946.

 Following the world premiere in 1938 at the Queen’s Hall the critic of the Times wrote:

 ‘This is the most important work the composer has written, though it still fails to fulfil entirely the promise of his obvious talent.  That Britten has a remarkable mastery of technical resources has been evident for some time, and this concerto fully confirms that impression.  The writing for both pianoforte and the orchestra is brilliant and effective.  The form, too, in which the work is cast is original without being obscure, even as the harmony is “contemporary” without being unintelligible at a first hearing.  Indeed, the clarity of both form and texture is the best feature of the work.’

The critic complained of satire breaking in too often leaving the listener to wonder when the composer was actually being serious.

‘It is the content that raises doubts concerning the real merit of the work that surely aspires to a higher status than a clever jeu d’esprit… the end of the third movement, which is rather commonplace in its romanticism, meant seriously, or is the composer’s tongue still in his cheek, as it is during the first part of the movement?’

20150709_131558The 1938 world premiere was broadcast by the BBC but no known recording of the performance was made at the time.  Recently however, the British Library was contacted by Alex Kersley and her brother John whose father was Leo Kersley, a friend of Britten and Pears.  He had discs of the live broadcast that were professionally made by New Marguerite Sound Studios of 99a Charing Cross Road.  The discs were transferred to digital files at the British Library Conservation Centre.  This important historical document of nearly 80 years ago can be heard complete in the Humanities reading rooms of the British Library though Soundserver.

End of third movement 1938


06 July 2015

Recording the Sounds of our Shores

As we enter the third week of the Sounds of our Shores coastal sound map project, we thought we'd showcase some of the recordings that have been submitted so far. From waves to lighthouse foghorns, these recordings will help us build a comprehensive picture of what the British coastline sounded like during the summer of 2015. Here we take a look at some of the natural history and leisure sounds that members of the public have been busy recording.


From small waves breaking on sand to the tumble of pebbles being moved back and forth by the tide on a shingle beach, these recordings are perhaps the most evocative of all the coastal sounds: 


The British coastline is home to an incredible variety of wildlife, from seabirds and songbirds to mammals and invertebrates. Here are some of the wildlife sounds that have been recorded so far:


From amusement arcades to seaside funfairs, these sounds immediately conjure up memories of holidays at some of our favourite seaside towns:


If you're heading to the coast during the next three months, why not record your own favourite sounds, either with your smartphone or a digital recorder, and share these on the Sounds of our Shores channel? The project runs until the 21st September so there's plenty of time to get down to your nearest seaside town or favourite coastal spot! Full details on how to take part can be found here.


Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd.

01 July 2015

The British Library at WOMAD

The British Library is celebrating 30 years of collaboration with WOMAD.

WOMAD 07 Sound Archive crew01
British Library WOMAD crew 2007

The British Library’s relationship with WOMAD is nearly as long as the festival's existence. Since 1985, missing only 3 years, we have been present at WOMAD's major annual summer event in the UK. Each year a small team of staff from the Library has spent an enjoyable weekend making documentary recordings of as many of the performances as possible. 

In total we hold over 2000 hours of music recorded at WOMAD, backed up digitally for preservation and onsite access. See more here.

WOMAD is the only music festival that has this incredible relationship with the British Library, and to celebrate we are collaborating to offer one lucky winner a pair of tickets to this year’s festival at Charlton Park (24th-26th July) and an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the British Library Sound Archive in London for four people. For more information click here.

Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and our new Save our Sounds programme.

Follow the British Library Sound Archive on Twitter via @soundarchive and tag with #SaveOurSounds

Follow the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities on Twitter via @BL_WorldTrad