THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

20 October 2015

Radio Festival 2015 at the British Library - with highlights from the radio archive

 

Brian Eno delivering the John Peel Lecture at the British Library
Brian Eno delivering the John Peel Lecture at the 2015 Radio Festival

The British Library recently hosted the 2015 Radio Festival, including BBC Radio’s John Peel Lecture, presented this year by Brian Eno, and a two day programme bringing together leading figures and experts from the UK radio industry. Hosted by Paddy O’Connell, this year’s speakers included radio and TV presenter Chris Evans, Will Page of online music service Spotify and Peter Barron, Google’s European Head of Communications.

Ahead of the Peel Lecture on the Sunday 27 September, BBC 6 Music took up residence in the foyer of our St Pancras building for an ‘Afternoon from the British Library’ with musician/DJ Jarvis Cocker and Mary Anne Hobbs broadcasting live. During the programme, Cocker and Hobbs registered for Reader Passes, before exploring the Library’s collections underground. Here they discovered some of the many rare and unique recordings in the sound archive, and even came face to face with an early edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Jarvis Cocker visiting the British Library (photo Toby Keane)
Jarvis Cocker exploring the LP stacks in the British Library's sound archive. Photo by Toby Keane

The Festival was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the British Library’s sound archive, an extraordinary collection of around 6.5m recordings dating back to the birth of recorded sound in the 19th Century. Adam Tovell, the Library's Production Co-ordinator (Technical Services), delivered the TechCon keynote address, outlining our concerns and solutions to the threats currently facing this unique collection; not least the danger that sounds may soon be lost due to obsolescence of the historical playback devices required to reproduce them, or as the materials from which they are made naturally decay.

This is one of the two central challenges of our Save our Sounds campaign, which we highlighted throughout the Radio Festival conference, the other being the archiving challenges of capturing today’s radio for researchers and students of the future.

During the Festival, we also played attendees some of our favourite sounds from the British Library’s radio archive, a collection of some 200,000 hours dating back to the 1920s. They were chosen by curators and staff from across the Library and played in between festival sessions:

Mary Stewart - The Ballad of John Axon - BBC Home Service, 1958

Luke McKernan - The Sinking of Radio Caroline, 1980

Caroline Brazier - Folk-Song Cellar - BBC Home Service, 1966

Jonnie Robinson - The Listening Project, 2012

Nora McGregor - Pressures of the Unspeakable - Resonance 107.3 FM, 1998

Andy Linehan - Johnny Rotten on Capital Radio, 1977

Rob Perks - George Ewart Evans - BBC Third Programme, 1964

Polly Russell - Anna Raeburn on The World Today - New York, 1974 

Richard Ranft - Music From a Small Planet - BBC Radio 4, 1983

Steve Cleary - Sono-Montage - BBC Third Programme, 1966

Steven Dryden - Kenny Everett on Capital Radio, 1970s

Paul Wilson - Pre-War Radio Luxembourg, 1935

To mark the end of the Festival, visitors to the Library were rewarded with an unexpected 15-minute performance by award-winning musician and BBC Radio 2 presenter Jamie Cullum, whose group played in our Entrance Hall.

Jamie Cullum (photo by Tony Antoniou)
Jamie Cullum playing in the Library's entrance hall. Photo by Tony Antoniou

With thanks to producer Simon Tester for recording the radio collection highlights, the Radio Academy, Gregory Whitehead, Anna Raeburn, Frances Taylor and Sophie McIvor.

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