THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

6 posts from April 2019

29 April 2019

Recording of the week: George Ewart Evans and The Barley Mow

This week's selection comes from Charlie Morgan, Oral History Archivist.

The Barley Mow is a classic end of the night folk song; funny enough to leave you in a good mood, adaptable enough to please the crowd, and it’s about drinking so normally has the pub on your side. It’s also tricky enough to show off the singer’s chops and frankly I’m always impressed that someone can remember every measure to congratulate, from the gallon right down to the gill.

We hold many recordings of the song in the World and Traditional Music collection and I’m particularly fond of a rather chaotic version at the Butchers Arms in Carhampton (side note: Carhampton is notable as the home of wassailing (second side note: I once went to a very good pub quiz at the Butchers Arms)). However, the recording I want to highlight today comes from our oral history collections and the interviews of George Ewart Evans.

SG18_Matthew Mary George Ewart Evans Susan and Jane in graden at Blaxhall School adjustedGeorge Ewart Evans with his children in the school garden, Blaxhall, Suffolk

George Ewart Evans is one of the godfathers of oral history and, after moving from Wales to Suffolk in 1947, Evans spent the 1950s through the 1970s recording the voices of local workers and neighbours. He’s probably best known for his books including Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay, but the great thing is that we hold his original interviews at the British Library and you can listen to them online. One of these interviews is with a Mr W. Boulton and, amongst his descriptions of seasonal work in Burton-on-Trent and Suffolk step dancing, Boulton regales us with his own rendition of the Barley Mow. Keep listening and, after some prodding from Boulton, you’ll hear Evans join in too.

George Ewart Evans and the Barley Mow (T1416)

According to Robert Bell, “the effect of The Barley Mow cannot be given in words; it should be heard, to be appreciated properly” and I’d have to agree with him. If you want a look at how this might have been in the 1950s then do check out this amazing footage from the Ship Inn, Blaxall at the East Anglia Film Archive (side note: Blaxhall is where Evans lived in Suffolk (second side note: thanks to my family for humouring my detour to the Ship earlier this year)). As for 2019 you’ve just got to hope that you come across a performance yourself, and in that I say good luck to you all – and of course as well to the company, the brewer, the landlord…

More information on the George Ewart Evans collection can be found in our collection guide to Major national oral history projects and surveys

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23 April 2019

Merrie England

Merrie England 1 re-coloured retouchingIllustration from HMV set of Merrie England (Courtesy of Damien's 78s)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

To celebrate St George’s Day this year I have selected a work whose popularity lasted well into the twentieth century.

When Arthur Sullivan died in 1900 he had written fourteen operas with his writing partner W. S Gilbert together producing such famous and immensely popular titles as The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, The Mikado and The Gondoliers.  In his last works he collaborated with librettist Basil Hood (1864-1917), but Sullivan died before their last work, The Emerald Isle, was completed.  English composer Edward German (1862-1936) was asked to finish the work and this led to further collaborations with Hood, the most famous being Merrie England from 1902 and Tom Jones from 1907. 

Basil-hood-1917Basil Hood in 1917

Merrie England is a comic opera set in the court of Elizabeth I.  The work played at the Savoy Theatre during 1902 and 1903 and the runaway hit from the show, The Yeomen of England, was recorded at the time in remarkably good sound by its originator, Henry Lytton (1865-1936).  In the days before microphones and amplification, singers had to be heard throughout a large theatre unaided, so the recording studio’s acoustic horn easily captured Lytton’s large and powerful voice. 

Henry Lytton 1902 in D

The opera proved so popular that in 1918 a complete recording was made by HMV on eleven twelve-inch 78rpm discs supervised and conducted by the composer.  This was quite an undertaking for its time as generally only extracts, arias and songs were recorded from operas and shows.  It would also have been extremely expensive to buy the complete set of acoustically recorded discs. 

Merrie England 2 re-coloured croppedCourtesy of Damian's 78s

The soloist for The Yeoman of England was Charles Mott, an English baritone who had made his name in Wagner roles, including the English premiere of Parsifal, and was chosen by Elgar to appear in some of his performances and productions.  Mott recorded the side on 27th February 1918.  Although already thirty-eight, Mott was conscripted into the army and joined the Artists Rifles.  Three months after making this recording he was shot at the Third Battle of Aisne on 20th May 1918 and died of his wounds two days later.  The disc label, therefore, reflects this.

HMV label

Charles Mott 1918

A later recording, by the sonically superior electrical process, was made in 1931 and although conducted by Clarence Raybould, it was recorded ‘under the supervision of the composer.’  The work’s popularity continued through amateur productions up and down the country and HMV recorded it again in 1960.  The work is still revived at times of patriotic events such as royal jubilees, the most recent being in 2012 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. 

EdwardgermanEdward German

 

22 April 2019

Recording of the week: a lesson in bird song duets and trios

This week's selection comes from Greg Green, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

With hundreds of recordings of birds from around East Africa, Myles E. W. North is a name that constantly crops up within the enormous collection of wildlife species reels here at the library. During his time with the Colonial Administrative Service in Kenya, Myles developed a keen interest in ornithology and, combined with his interest in music, this turned into a passion for recording and studying bird song. He had an excellent ear and was able to transcribe and mimic bird song very accurately. He released two highly praised records: ‘Voices of African Birds’ and ‘More Voices of African Birds’.

In this recording of Tropical Boubous - one of many outtakes from his commercial releases - Myles presents a selection of duets from the birds with announcements in between explaining how the duet works. He accurately whistles the part of each bird, and even uses a recorder (an end blown flute, not his EMI reel-to-reel machine) to demonstrate the lower notes that he cannot whistle.

Tropical BoubousTropical Boubous in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (Photo credit: Derek Keats on Visual Hunt / CC BY)

Tropical Boubou duets & trios (BL ref WS2882 C3)

This excerpt features what Myles believes is a trio of boubous all adding their own part to the melody and, without his input, you would be forgiven for believing it was all one bird. Myles’ personality really shines through in this recording, demonstrating his knowledge and experience as he breaks down a complicated ensemble of birdsong with some brilliant mimicry.

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15 April 2019

Recording of the week: opening the Tyne Bridge

This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

This week's Recording of the week - composed of two recordings in fact, an A-side and a B-side - is drawn from the disc issued by the Columbia Gramophone Company to commemorate the opening of the Tyne Bridge.

Side A features the speech given by King George V at the opening ceremony at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead-on-Tyne, 10 October 1928. Side B features an address of welcome to the King, given by W. Swinburne Esq., Town Clerk, County Borough of Gateshead. 

Listen to King George V (1CL0044447 side A)

Listen to W Swinburne (1CL0044447 side B)

Of particular (visual) interest is the etching which occupies a large part of side A, showing the coats of arms of Newcastle and Gateshead and a line illustration of the bridge itself.

Tyne-Bridge-disc-detail

On the 23 August 2018 the bridge's importance as a structure of 'more than special interest' was recognized in its Grade II* listing by Historic England.

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08 April 2019

Recording of the week: Cello or drum? Meet the ütőgardon

This week's selection comes from Michele Banal, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Husband and wife Mihaly and Gizella Halmagyi were a duo of professional musicians from Gyimes Valley, in the Romanian stretch of the Eastern Carpathians. Their home town Gyimesközéplok is part of a significant Hungarian-speaking enclave in Romania, and the couple mostly performed old Hungarian folk music at weddings and other social events in their area. Mihaly played a modified fiddle with a fifth string added for extra resonance. Gizella sang and played the ütőgardon, a peculiar instrument that is unique to this area of Europe.

ROTW-Utogardon x 576 wideMihaly and Gizella Halmagyi photographed in their home at the time of recording in 1996. Photocopy of photo by Susanne Kratzer.

At first glance, the ütőgardon (or gardon, as it is more informally called) looks like a slightly misshapen cello. It has four strings, a fretless neck, and even the f-shaped holes typical of the violin family. But this is where the similarities end. The tuning pegs are way too big, the bridge is flat rather than curved, and the four (sometimes three) strings are all tuned to the same note, usually a D, with the fourth and thinnest string tuned an octave higher than the rest. Lastly, but most importantly, there is no bow. Instead, a wooden stick is used to rhythmically hit the strings, a technique more reminiscent of drumming than bowing a cello, while the highest string of the instrument is plucked by the hand not holding the stick. Almost exclusively played as accompaniment to a violin, we could then say that the ütőgardon plays the function of a drum, albeit a drum that looks like a cello and produces a pitched drone.

The photocopied picture above is the only image of the couple held in our archive, and in it you can see Gizella in playing position: stick in the right hand and left hand plucking the fourth string up on the instrument’s neck. According to Gizella, her gardon was about 250 years old.

You can hear Gizella Halmagyi’s ütőgardon in the following recording, made by Susanne Kratzer at Gizella and Mihaly’s place on 20 June 1996. They perform a Csárdás, a Hungarian dance tune that they would normally play at weddings after the groom's party had reached the house of the bride.

Csárdás (C778/13)

This recording belongs to the Susanne Kratzer collection, which has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. Shelfmark: C778/13.

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01 April 2019

Recording of the week: well sick

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

The widespread use among young speakers of sick [= 'great, excellent'] follows the pattern of several slang terms in which the conventional meaning is inverted by speakers who subsequently use it as an all-purpose term of approval. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records a similar process with wicked from the 1920s and bad from the 1950s onwards, for example.

Taken out of context this can, of course, lead to confusion between the generations as illustrated by a text message I once received from my then 18-year-old daughter. Having just seen one of her favourite bands at Reading Festival she texted: Peace just finished! fifth row! was sick! I chose to interpret this as good news.

Text-message

This positive meaning of sick was one of the most popular submissions to the Library's Evolving English WordBank, a crowd-sourced collection of dialect and slang created by members of the public in 2010/11, as illustrated by these two contributions, and is first recorded in the OED in 1983.

SICK [Manchester C1442/1917]

female (b.1987, Manchester) Sometimes with my friends I say that’s sick meaning that’s extremely good. I’ve got a feeling it comes from sort of Afro-Caribbean influences,  Asian British Asian influences as well, that’s where I seem to hear it the most.

SICK [West Midlands C1442/1332]

male (b. West Midlands) One of the most common phrases I use is sick for something really good it’s extremely common between me and my mates we would say oh how was the gig last night ... oh it was sick.

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