THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

5 posts from March 2020

30 March 2020

Recording of the week: Dusting books

This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

Three men dusting books
Three men dusting books, one bent over © New York Public Library Archives, The New York Public Library

John Milne, born in 1929 in Aberdeen, worked for Bisset’s Bookshop in the 1950s. In his life story recording he reflected on changing approaches to bookselling and book handling. He talks about the importance of looking inside the books on the shelves, and argues that bookselling has now become about retail rather than about expertise. ‘Books are now sold like bars of soap, and that’s not my phrase, it came out years and years ago in one of the marketing ploys.’ In the following audio extract he takes us through his method of dusting the books in order to get to know the stock.

John Milne recalls the value of dusting books

People don’t handle books in the same way they used to. In the old days you would dust the books, and that’s the best way to get to know your stock. The discipline of dusting, every morning you would start on the shelf where you had stopped the day before, and you would pick up a book and you would have your duster or your brush, and you look at the title of the book and you look at the author and you look the publisher, and if you are standing still you would open it and read, a couple of pages, and to try to get some hold of the book and say, right, that’s it, back on the shelf. And work your way along the shelf, and you would maybe do two sections that morning. And after a week somebody comes in and says, a book, you say, ‘Oh I saw that yesterday,’ and you can stretch out your hand and have that book. It’s not done nowadays. There isn’t the discipline of learning about the inside of books. Maybe I’m denigrating present book staff but I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s the depth of knowledge that was there in the great old bookshops like Thin’s, Wallace, and still is, I don’t want to denigrate anybody, but Thin’s is a great bookshop, full of people who were wrapped up in books and did nothing else but books. Blackwell’s was the same, Heffers was the same, any of the big important shops of the Thirties are more or less still there.

John Milne was recorded by National Life Stories for Book Trade Lives in 1999. The interviewer was Sue Bradley. For more information about this recording see the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

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

23 March 2020

Recording of the week: Richard Attenborough on Michael Powell

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

Richard Attenborough at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival
Richard Attenborough at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. Photo by gdcgraphics at https://www.flickr.com/photos/gdcgraphics/ CC BY 2.0

In a previous blog post I introduced the Anwar Brett collection. This comprises interviews and press conferences featuring film directors and actors. The collection numbers around 2400 tape cassettes and CD-Rs. This 'recording of the week' marks the completion of the cataloguing of the collection. Thanks are due to my colleague Trevor Hoskins for this.

The recording features actor and director Richard Attenborough. It is a short excerpt from a 33-minute press conference given in Leicester, 4 October 2007.Ostensibly a press conference on Attenborough's last film Closing the Ring, its sensitive handling by Quentin Falk covers much more.

Attenborough discusses the difficulty of getting finance for film-making; his childhood in Leicester, and the two Kindertransport refugee children adopted by his parents; his coping with the loss of a daughter and granddaughter in the 2004 tsunami; his collection of Picasso ceramics, and their loan to Leicester Art Gallery in memory of his granddaughter; and his hopes of dying in harness on the film set. His wife, actress Sheila Sim, aka Poppy, was present in the audience.

In this clip Anwar Brett asks a question about the film A Matter of Life and Death. This prompts Attenborough to recall his first meeting with ‘the genius of British cinema’, director Michael Powell.

Richard Attenborough on Michael Powell

With thanks to Trevor Hoskins.

Follow @BL_DramaSound, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

16 March 2020

Recording of the week: 'I didn't catch any of that!'

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

In this audio clip, Iona McDonald describes a familiar experience – failure to understand someone from a different part of the country or English-speaking world. Extremely broad dialect speakers can occasionally seem unintelligible, even to speakers of closely related varieties, as this amusing anecdote illustrates:

Anecdote about Scots dialect

We used to have some friends from the Falkirk area who used to come up and stay with us every year in the summer time and they had a very very strong accent very strong Central Scots accent and Sandy had been playing outside and came running in very windy day came running in and he said to my mother yir streetcher’s fawin doun yir claes’re on the grund and we all looked at the poor boy blankly and he repeated himself again yir streetcher's fawin doun yir claes’re on the grund and we were still making absolutely nothing of it we had to say right slow it down Sandy and yir streetcher's fawin doun and yir claes are on the grund so oh right we've got it now it meant your clothes-pole has fallen down and your clothes are on the ground and he just stomped his foot and looked so put out and said yous are aw too polite.

Iona MacDonald
Iona MacDonald © BBC 2005

Dialects differ systematically from other varieties in terms of vocabulary, grammar and accent (i.e. pronunciation). Sandy’s animated description here contains words, such as streetcher [= ‘clothes-pole’] and claes [= ‘clothes’], a non-standard pronoun, yous, and numerous localised pronunciations that render his Central Scots dialect incomprehensible to family friends from Skye. Yous occurs in a number of Scottish dialects and indeed in places like Merseyside and Tyneside, but Standard English no longer distinguishes between singular and plural ‘you’. Sandy’s pronunciation of doun, grund, aw and fawin are also typical of many Scottish accents and, to a lesser degree, of varieties in North East England.

This passage comes from a BBC Voices Recording in Portree, Isle of Skye, and is one of 300 conversations about language, accent and dialect made by the BBC in 2004-5.

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

09 March 2020

Recording of the week: The dominion of the salmon

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

Caitlín Maude was an Irish poet, playwright, actress and traditional singer from Rosmuc, Connemara, in the west of Ireland. Her version of the traditional Irish song ‘Liam O Raghallaigh’ was recorded by Peter Kennedy in London in 1968, when she was 27 years old.

Catilín_Maude
Caitilín Maude, an file © Daithi Mac Lochlainn

Maude was raised in the Gaelic language and sang unaccompanied in the sean-nós style, which means ‘in the old way’. Sean-nós singing from Connemara is usually characterised by a high degree of ornamentation, using melisma and grace notes to enhance the power of the song’s narrative. To my ears, what is striking about Maude’s voice is the restraint with which she uses this technique, her approach finely calibrated to lend power to the bleak beauty of the song – austere in its matter of factness about what happens to the body of a drowned man, but ornate in its expression of loss and sorrow, and fascinated by the strange transformations that death can bring.

Listen to 'Liam O Raghallaigh'

Maude’s comments before and after the song form a shrewd and witty counterpoint to the tragedy of the story. I particularly love the careful relish with which she translates some of the more gruesome images from the Irish, including my favourite line: ‘Your two snow-white hands are under the dominion of the salmon’.

Caitlín Maude died in 1982, at the age of 41, leaving a small but important legacy of writing and song. The recordings she made with Peter Kennedy are available for listening at the British Library.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.UOSH

02 March 2020

Recording of the week: Sir George Henschel

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

German born British musician Geroge Henschel was born in 1850 and became a close friend of Brahms whom he met in 1874 when the composer was 41 years of age. A multi-talented musician, Henschel was a baritone, pianist and conductor. In 1877 Henschel took part in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem with the composer conducting while in 1881 he became the first conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was also a friend of Moscheles and Tchaikovsky. Remarkable then, to have a recording of him conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1927.

Sir George Henschel
Portrait of British baritone, conductor, and pianist Sir George Henschel (1850-1934) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

Here he is directing a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C major Op. 21, recorded at London’s La Scala Theatre in December 1926 and February 1927. It is Henschel’s only orchestral recording and was the first of a complete recording (by different conductors) of all the symphonies made to commemorate the centenary of the death of Beethoven in 1927 while this year we celebrate 250 years since the great composer’s birth.

Beethoven Symphony No. 1

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